Community members around the Mission District reacted with a mixture of relief, elation, and skepticism following a Minnesota jury’s Tuesday afternoon verdict that Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who asphyxiated George Floyd under his knee last May, was guilty of two counts of murder.
While the mood was generally positive, many agreed that the guilty verdict was only a small step toward changing the institution of policing — one many have criticized for disproportionate brutality against people of color, particularly Black men.
The video of Floyd pleading for his life under Chauvin’s knee for more than nine minutes sparked mass protests around the country last summer, including in San Francisco. Though Chauvin was quickly fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with murder, his conviction was far from assured. Proving a police officer is guilty of murder is notoriously difficult, and rarely happens.
But bucking the odds, Chauvin, who is white, was convicted on Tuesday afternoon of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of Floyd. He could face up to 40 years in prison.
“I’m overjoyed,” said 17-year-old Sebastian Bacher, “because it’s one of the first times we’ve had a conviction like this. All of the other ones have been let go or sent off with a really low consequence and it’s amazing that this can finally happen.”
Bacher added the guilty verdict is “100 percent a step in the right direction,” noting that it may take a long time for society to overcome the “deep-rooted racial hatred” that Floyd’s death came to represent. Asked how he felt watching the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe,” Bacher said: “It’s watching a murder. No one should feel anything but shame and terror for that.”
Daria Garina, 33, said he knew of the guilty verdict against Chauvin, but said the former officer isn’t the only one who needs to be convicted. “The whole system is guilty,” Garina said, standing on Mission Street. “Things aren’t over until we abolish the police.”
“It’s good news,” he added of Tuesday’s guilty verdict. “And there’s so much more to go toward abolishing policing, prisons, ICE, and all insitutions of the state that murder Black and Brown people.”
Josh Morgan, 29, who was standing in line at a local business on Mission Street near 21st Street, said that while he felt justice had been served, he also wondered whether anything would really change.
“It’s been like this for how long? So why would this change?” asked Morgan, who grew up in Oakland and is Black.
He pointed out that it has been more than a decade since BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station in 2009. Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a subsequent criminal trial.
“Justice for Floyd, but you know — it is what it is. I personally feel like ain’t nothing going to change.”
The verdict was read by Judge Peter Cahill just after 2 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. There was little reaction from Chauvin, half his face blocked with a surgical mask, as Cahill went down the list of convictions. After the verdict was read, the former officer was handcuffed and led away with his hands behind his back.
Sara Shortt, the 50-year-old director of policy and community organizing at Community Housing Partnership, waited for the announcement outside a coffee shop while texting friends, trading predictions on what the decision would be and what a guilty or not-guilty verdict would mean. At 2 p.m., when the verdict was expected, it came and went without any news.
Then, Shortt got a text from her friend — guilty on all three counts. Unable to help herself, she yelled out to those outside a coffee shop, “Guilty on all charges!”
“Some people clapped and responded, and others looked at me blankly,” she said with a laugh. “I’m feeling greatly relieved, but also very aware that this isn’t nearly enough, and we need to continue to push to make sure that anytime this happens, police are held accountable to the highest degree.”
Dylan, 25, found out about the verdict on Twitter and was reading about the decision while eating a sandwich from Valencia Subs.
He would like to see the decision send a signal to police officers in San Francisco.
“I would hope that police officers would not behave with complete impunity if they know that, if they murder somebody, they can be convicted for it,” he said.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, there were no demonstrations, though the Mission Police Station had clearly prepared by setting up barricades that blocked off the sidewalk. Seven police officers stood guard outside. They declined to comment on the verdict.
Some people walking around were discussing the verdict on the phone; others said they had no idea a verdict had been reached or that a trial was being held in the first place. But the trial was extraordinary — a rare spectacle that featured police officers, including the Minneapolis police chief, testifying against one of their own.
Like Mission community members, San Francisco leaders reacted to the verdict with jubilation — though they said the work is not over.
“Today’s verdict brings relief to Americans but it doesn’t bring justice,” tweeted San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin immediately following the verdict. “It doesn’t heal the pain George Floyd’s family has suffered.”
“Convictions against police officers who break the law remain rare,” added Boudin, who is currently prosecuting three cases against San Francisco police officers — including former SFPD rookie officer Christopher Samayoa for manslaughter in the killing of Kieta O’Neil in Bayview in December, 2017. It is the first criminal charge against a SFPD officer for an on-duty killing in San Francisco history.
“We must push for accountability, but true justice means creating a system that eliminates racism and violence against Black and Brown people,” Boudin said.
In a statement, Mayor London Breed said she remembers watching the video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, and “it felt like an eternity.”
“The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest,” she said.
“While this tragedy can never be undone, what we can do is finally make real change in the name of George Floyd,” she said, noting her move to route $120 million from San Francisco law enforcement budgets into housing, health care, and community services for the city’s Black community.
SFPD Chief Bill Scott agreed that “the work of doing justice for George Floyd doesn’t end today,” adding in a statement: “My hope for all of us in criminal justice roles is that we rise to this moment, and learn the lessons that history has frankly been trying to teach us for decades.”