Harlem leaders and advocates react to Derek Chauvin guilty verdict

Photo credit: Isseu Diouf Campbell

The guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes and 29 seconds, came as a shock to many in the Black community. They had hoped for it, but couldn’t even entertain its possibility in the country of freedom and justice for all that has disappointed them so many times. Even when the acts committed were caught on tape and the guilty verdict so obvious, they came to learn that justice in America was in the eyes of the often mostly white jury or prosecutor.

On the day of the verdict, City Council District 9 and 7 candidates, Athena Moore and Stacy Lynch held a community peace walk in Harlem that ended at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building.

“We have to continue to set standards in this country that show that policing has been reformed,” said community peace walk co-organizer and City Council District 9 candidate Athena Moore. “We have to continue to train our officers. We have to continue to use culturally competent services, we must continue to make sure that we are adopting laws that continue to support Black and brown communities. It is not okay for the injustices that we’re seeing run rampant in this community and on this globe right now. We must make sure at all costs that all the officers that are in this community represent us, reflect us and that they are not just people who are coming from other communities and trying to police us and have oversight for our lives. We have to make sure that we take action and change that now.”

“There is no celebration because we are supposed to be treated just like everybody else,” said CEO and founder of Street Corner Resources Iesha Sekou. “The Black men are not supposed to have the new hanging with a knee on the neck ever, while the world watches and we got to pray for a conviction… I see these kids brutalized in these streets at the hands of the police. I talk to the mothers who lost their sons at the hands of the police and it hurts. It’s painful. I’m not saying we can’t have a celebratory moment but don’t get caught in it because it will be the same thing when you turn the news on tomorrow if we are not careful.”

“When I heard about the verdict being announced today, I was expecting the worst,” said Community Board 10 member and City Council District 9 candidate Joshua Clennon. “I went home. I changed my shoes. I put my boots on ready to hit these streets because I’m tired of this injustice in this country. I’m happy that we got justice today, but I’m not satisfied. We don’t need justice one time. We need justice all the time.”

“When the jury went out for deliberations, I was holding my breath,” said Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi. “I was so nervous because we have been here too many times and every time our country is at a crossroad, it has gone in the wrong direction. There was accountability today but only for Dereck Chauvin but not for the system that enabled him and those like him to take too many lives.”

“I believe that we saw justice prevail today,” said civil rights activist Dominique Sharpton. “We have been waiting for so long. I remember being a little girl and sitting in the courtroom when Justin Volpe was convicted for sodomizing Abner Louima in New York City and now here we are in 2021 seeing Derek Chauvin walking out of the courtroom in handcuffs. I just think it speaks to the progression of the nation, the progression of what we are now seeing with our own eyes. I think that justice has been served but, I also think that it’s also time for us to get to work. Now the work really continues because now we have to make sure that it resonates across the nation and that we continue to see people, especially police officers, be held accountable for their actions.

“We live in a world where the system is unjust, but you know we stood our ground and we got stronger,” said 19-year-old Harlemite Christian Richardson. “This is our fight. Our parents came before us and it is time to carry the torch. It’s been our fight for the last 12 years since Trayvon Martin died. We are going to win.”

“We’ve been protesting all over the city, taking over bridges, taking over everything, and now with this verdict we know that this is actually possible,” said another Harlem youth Follyvi Dossa. “I remember when we were watching Trayvon Martin and we realized he was not going to get justice but now George Floyd is actually getting justice, it means a lot for me. It means a lot to all of us, but now we also have to focus on voting. Right now, we had so many candidates that came out screaming for us to vote for them. We have to make sure that they work for our vote. If we are going to vote for them, they are really going to do something in our community. Make sure that they are looking out for me. Make sure that we get scholarships. Make sure that we’re safe in our community. Make sure they are looking out for us when the cops are trying to come at us. I’m very excited for this verdict and I know that real change is coming along.”

After everything is said and done, for 18-year-old Bronx resident Navarro Butler, staying alive will be one of the biggest challenges for young men in America.

“I drive and whenever I see police officers, I always roll down all my windows, said Navarro Butler. “I watch videos all the time to prepare myself. What happens next when they stop me because I’m extremely scared as a young Black man. They put a lot of fear into me and growing up, I didn’t realize how much that I would have to go into certain shoes. I could be like the next Trayvon just because of my skin color. It definitely puts a lot of fear into me but whatever happens when that encounter comes, I’ll be prepared for it because I know that people will stand behind me. I know that everyone is woke and I believe even if something bad happens, they’re all going to turn something positive out of it and march for the right reasons.”

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