Chauvin's guilty verdict is just one step in fight against systemic racism, local activists say

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill preside Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin may have been found guilty, but the verdict was just one step toward addressing systemic issues in policing, York County activists say.

A jury Tuesday convicted Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case of George Floyd, a Black man who died last May after the officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Activists nationwide celebrated the verdict. But they also reiterated that the work to combat racism in policing is far from over.

“We have so much more to do,” said Marta Peck, co-founder of Indivisible York. “It appears that if you’re a Black person, police assume that if you’re out at night, or you’re out in the wrong neighborhood, that you’re guilty of something.”

Peck said that one prominent issue is that officers have been trained to focus on control by force, whether that be with just handcuffs or a firearm.

They aren't sufficiently trained in de-escalation or on how to avoid implicit biases, she said.

York NAACP President Richard Craighead pointed to the need for legal reform, particularly in regard to how police are often shielded from lawsuits.

"We are not blind, we are not beguiled and we are not befuddled. We remain vigilant in our quest for equal justice, police accountability and the end of police immunity," Craighead said in a statement.

Under qualified immunity, police are protected from lawsuits unless the plaintiff can prove that the precise action that was taken has been "clearly established" as unconstitutional.

Therefore, those who oppose the doctrine argue, it's extremely difficult to hold officers accountable and take a case to court.

Leading up to Tuesday's guilty verdict, those seeking justice for Floyd argued that there was a clear case against Chauvin, particularly because the entire incident was captured on video.

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin's trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Even so, individuals such as Peck said they feared that Chauvin would be found not guilty based on a history of police avoiding punishment after being accused of brutality or racial profiling.

Floyd's death last year sparked protests all over the country, including in York City. But it has been far from the only incident that caused outrage.

Other Black people who died at the hands of police include Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed last year in Kentucky. More recently, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed in Minnesota.

In Taylor's case, none of the officers involved were charged in connection with her death. In Wright's case, the officer involved was charged with second-degree manslaughter, but she has not yet faced trail.

Some, though, say Chauvin's guilty verdicts offer a glimmer of hope.

"Today’s conviction of Derek Chauvin sends the message that police violence against people of color must end. Police and prosecutors better pay attention," reads a Tuesday statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Chauvin's sentencing has been set for June 16, The New York Times reported.

The minimum sentence for the former officer's murder charges, given he has no criminal record, is 12½ years, the Times reported. 

But the maximum sentence for the charges differ. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder can be as high as 40 years, while the maximum for third-degree murder is 25 years.

The maximum sentence for the third charge, second-degree manslaughter, is 10 years.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.