In May 2020, the world watched in horror as a video was released showing white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd, a Black man, by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for around 9 minutes. On April 20, 2021, the country finally received the verdict for Chauvin’s actions. In a world where police officers (or even civilians) rarely get punished for killing Black people, young Black activists and organizers were prepared to see a verdict that was fundamentally unjust and evasive. But to the nation’s surprise, basic logic prevailed, and Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, with a combined sentence of up to 75 years. A representative for Chauvin did not respond to Elite Daily’s request for comment on the verdict.
For many people, the verdict gave them a small bit of relief. For some, it represented justice. And for others, it represented all the reasons why the fight for freedom must continue. Many were horrified to learn that the same day Chauvin was convicted, a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Division of Police and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation are investigating the shooting, per WBNS, and as of April 22 no charges have been filed.
A guilty verdict doesn’t reverse trauma. It doesn’t bring the dead back to life. A guilty verdict won’t make us unhear Floyd’s gasps of “I can’t breathe,” and his anguished calls for his mother. But what this verdict can do, and what it is already doing, is convey what work still needs to be done, and motivate us to do it.
Elite Daily spoke to young Black activists in the United States to ask them what the Chauvin verdict means to them, where they’ll go from here, and what true justice looks like.
The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
On the true meaning of justice, and the work still left to do:
While it is nice to believe that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial marks a fundamental change in our justice system, Ma’Khia’s murder by police shows us that the guilty verdict was a one-off to quell the American public. There’s still so much work to be done, and this summer will be much like the last in terms of organizing for change. My heart aches for Ma’Khia Bryant and her family, George Floyd and his family, and for all victims of police brutality. They will never be able to experience justice.
Nisa, 26, political strategist and organizer, New York
On why abolition is the only way to achieve justice:
In my own journey with abolition, I’ve found myself struggling with what to feel when murderers like Dylann Roof or Derek Chauvin are convicted. At the time of Roof’s verdict in late 2016, I remember feeling something akin to joy. I thought that justice meant locking him up and throwing away the key.
In the four years since then, I’ve learned that justice, to me, means creating a world where people like Chauvin are no longer protected and encouraged to wantonly murder Black people. Convicting Chauvin only serves to feed him to the same system that empowered him to kill George Floyd in broad daylight. This is the same system that allowed the Columbus Police Department to murder a 16-year-old child, whose only misstep here was living in a country where caring for children doesn’t even rank as an afterthought. It is no accident that while Chauvin sat trial for the murder of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, and at least 61 other people were murdered by law enforcement.
For me, abolition now means more than just defunding the police. It means engaging in the project of building a world where care is actualized and externalized, where cops cease to exist, where prison and policing are no longer used to destroy our communities. This is the world that George Floyd and Ma’Khia Bryant deserved, and I’m committed to building it.
Alana, 29, organizing and social impact manager at Ohio Women’s Alliance, Ohio
On what April 20, the day of the verdict, represents:
The day represents the beginning of America gaining a conscience. Black men in particular have had their humanity acknowledged and seen. Meanwhile, a Black girl who looks like me was murdered during a situation that feels all too familiar, which I feel further depicts the subjugation of Black women in America. From Breonna Taylor to Ma’Khia Bryant, the violence against Black women is often ignored and overshadowed.
April 20 represents a day in which Black men’s humanity was validated, while Black girls and women were dehumanized.
As the Black community grabs one morsel of justice, we lose a bucketful once again.
Brianna, 19, intern at Transmit Media, New York
On the awakening effect of the Chauvin trial verdict:
I was genuinely surprised by the verdict in the Chauvin trial — not because George Floyd didn’t deserve justice, of course, but because I’m so used to the soul-crushing repetition of white people not facing repercussions for actions that harm or kill Black people. I think that I, like many others, have been desensitized to the constant violence that drapes this country. This verdict felt like an awakening, something to begin to stave off that trauma-induced desensitization. From here, I am going to continue to donate to resources working for change, because we don’t only need reactive measures, but preemptive ones as well.
On the shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant:
As the Black community grabs one morsel of justice, we lose a bucketful once again. I am heartbroken over Ma’Khia Bryant’s death, especially because Black girls and women do not get the same outcry that Black men do when they are harmed by police officers. I fear that her case will be ignored. Right now, I will just have to make noise about her and donate.
Liyah, 21, community activist, North Carolina.
On feeling energized to continue organizing:
I’ve been doing educational, community, and art-based activist work for about two years. When I read the Chauvin verdict, I felt shock. Even though I was giving so much energy to my activism with hopes it would pay off, I was starting to become almost numb to the killings because no justice was being done, and I was growing incredibly frustrated.
I was extremely relieved to see that our cries and words were heard. It also gave me the push I needed to get back into activism, and to continue to do work on breaking down microaggressions that perpetuate racism and lead to racist acts and injustice.
Madison, 19, chief officer of Buckhead4Black Lives, Georgia
On how the fight against racism will continue:
I was ecstatic to learn that Chauvin was found guilty on all charges, and I felt hopeful that we could usher in a new era for change. Our nation’s cry of joy soon turned to a cry of sorrow just a few hours after the verdict, as we learned that a Black teen girl, Ma’khia Bryant, had been murdered by the police. Her murder was a brutal reminder that although we may have won one battle, we are still fighting in a continuous war against police brutality and racism.
Our college organization Buckhead4BlackLives wants to be a leader to fight police brutality and racism in the Atlanta community. We will continue to organize protests, advocate for criminal justice reform, and provide educational information to complete this goal. Our organization is just one part of the puzzle that can help raise awareness of injustice.
Working towards abolition means demanding more.
Nirbas, 21, executive assistant at Documenting MN, Minnesota
On fundraising goals:
The actions I’ll be taking are community building and mutual aid. For example, DocumentingMN is raising $ 35,000 for 130 Black foster youth in extended foster care in the Hennepin County area who have been affected by COVID and/or the protests. This is vital, because if we aren’t making sure vulnerable community members have funds, who will? By boosting and hopefully making our goal, I know that vulnerable members of our community are being cared for and centered.
On working towards abolition:
Living in an active military occupation in Minneapolis, working towards abolition means demanding more. Even when I can’t leave my home due to armed tanks outside my building and neighborhood, even when I can’t think of a better future, or a life without a safety net.
It means instead of re-imagining systems, I’m making sure our community is taken care of and their needs are being met. It means rent paid, food in bellies, and resources for Black families. It means knowing that community building and strength will get us through this and through the next time. It means we keep saying Ma’Khia Bryant and Daunte Wright’s names until this system is abolished. It also means having to be forced to seek justice within a system that was created to kill us. It means not having faith in a system that was built to destroy us. It means knowing that real justice would be Ma’Khia being alive and Daunte seeing his child’s face another day. It means keeping faith that my community has my back, and continuing to speak up and center my community in all my work.