The George Floyd memorial outside the convenience store where he was murdered in May 2020 (Photo courtesy of Wikicommons (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))
The George Floyd memorial outside the convenience store where he was murdered in May 2020

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

“I felt that I could take a deep breath again”: reflections and reactions to the trial of Derek Chauvin

The RV community reacts to the unprecedented trial -- and verdict -- that dominated headlines a year later

May 4, 2021

On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, 46-year-old George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelled on his neck for almost 10 minutes. The final moments of Floyd’s life were filmed on the transcripts of police body cams and the cell phones of onlookers where footage can be seen of Floyd saying more than 20 times that he could not breathe. These images and videos were shared over social media and became talking points for different news outlets for over a year. Floyd’s death sparked global outrage and began the summer of racial reckoning throughout the United States.

Now that the trial finished and a verdict was delivered, the world seemed to take a collective breath. In order to examine how we got to where we are, we need to go back to the beginning. The Holly Spirit spoke with members of the RV community to get the full picture of the impact of this moment in time.

 

Summer 2020

The summer of 2020 was unlike any other. The world was reeling from the pandemic and a year lost during quarantine, and Floyd’s death came on the heels of Breonna Taylor’s death and rising tensions within Black communities. RV had its own issues of race and equality to confront in the wake of Floyd’s death, and the community spent months reflecting on the impact of the summer of 2020.

Looking back, what were your initial thoughts and responses about the death of George Floyd?

Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal

“There have been a handful of court cases during my lifetime that truly captured the attention of so many. The Chauvin trial was one of them. At the end of the day, he was afforded due process, tried in court, held accountable for his actions, and justice was served in the legal system. Sadly, however, we cannot bring back the life that was taken. The loss of George Floyd was a tragedy – a crime against humanity.”

 

Jayda Lundy, junior

“The shock. I was shocked. When I heard on the news for the first time last year, I was super shocked. Knowing that police brutality was still going on, and that the man on the news that was killed by a police officer in such a brutal way was super shocking to me.”

 

Jessica DiPietro, junior

“Shock. We’ve seen police brutality happen before, but to that extent where it was nine minutes constantly on his neck, that was something that shook the country I think. It was really sad to watch that in our country it was still happening and it was even sadder to realize that the only reason why it got so much attention, was because it was on camera- and there are so many cases where it is not.”

 

Chris Peterson, junior

“Frustrated, because someone in the law enforcement, someone who is supposed to protect the people, would be the death of a man over a minor crime in a serious way.”

 

Mrs. Linda Wittmann, RV English teacher

“Looking back, my initial thoughts and responses were fear, but it was more ‘here we go again,’ [and] I was upset by that. I do try often to see the full story, try not to have a full opinion yet, but in front of him it was very disturbing, upsetting and negative, and I just knew it was going to be a very big situation.”

 

Myaa Fulton, junior

“I honestly wasn’t surprised, it is horrible to say, but I wasn’t surprised it was another name to a very long list that was continually growing since the Trayvon Martin case. I was only seven or eight when that happened but I remember how it really rocked the world and ever since then there have been countless names. George Floyd came at a very peak time during the pandemic and there was a lot of anger in general, so to add another death of police brutality to that list caused so much stress.”

 

Mrs. Cheryl Alspach, RV History teacher

“I vividly remember how I was first exposed to George Floyd’s murder, it was posted on Facebook sitting in my car, and I was shocked to see such a horrible thing happen to a human being. I felt the frustration of the bystander who was watching this happen and who was unable to change anything that was occurring right before their eyes. I remember just thinking, this is undeniable, what is in the video. You watched the man die on video, I knew before knowing what happened that this was going to be bad.”

I felt the frustration of the bystander who was watching this happen and who was unable to change anything that was occurring right before their eyes.”

— Mrs. Alspach

 

Nia Plair, junior

“Looking back, the final thoughts I remember were that I was really sad and it made me feel numb because there was so much media coming out about how other black people who have died over police brutality, so it was overwhelming with all of the videos…I was scared for my black male family members because I know if it could happen to George Floyd over a blank check, I couldn’t imagine what could happen over a traffic stop. The past year has shown what could happen over a traffic stop isn’t positive either.”

 

Joel McMillon, junior

“When it first happened, it was one of the bigger ones, it was an eye-opener and opened up America to a lot of solutions to this problem, a lot of change. Looking back on it, when it was just happening with the riots and the whole thing, it had me wondering, could this possibly happen to me? Honestly, I would say that the George Floyd case wasn’t the first one that I heard of, it was the first one that I had been fully exposed to with being able to understand what is going on.”

 

Joshua Oludoyi, junior

“We saw for nine minutes what was going on. As I was watching the video, a lot of emotions were going through my head. I was angry, I was sad, worried and most importantly, I was scared. I was scared for him, and I was scared at the response that was going to follow afterward.”

 

The trial

Eleven months after a bystander video showing Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, Chauvin pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three witnesses, including a 911 dispatcher and two bystanders, took to the stand for the prosecution. In addition, the trial was broadcasted live where the public was able to witness not only the trial, but the legal system. After three weeks of testimony in court, the all guilty verdict was announced. 

What outcomes were you expecting?

Jessica DiPietro, junior

“I was hoping for guilty, but I wasn’t sure that was going to be the outcome, because in many cases it’s not guilty.”

 

Mrs. Linda Wittman, RV English teacher

“During the trial, I hoped he would be found guilty, that after looking at the situation from many different angles and sources and seeing that, not as a lawyer, he still seemed to be guilty. From my opinion of what I know, from what I saw, from what I looked into and what I’ve heard about…I was really afraid of the outcome. I was hoping that I would be the right outcome but I was very nervous at that time.” 

 

Josh Oludoyi, junior

“The trial period was nerve-wracking for me of course, but to be honest, I didn’t think that Derek Chauvin was going to be found guilty. [I say] that because there were a lot of instances where police officers are on trial for murder and have to be held accountable for their actions, it rarely ever happens in our judicial system where our officers are convicted for murder, especially on all three counts of murder charges that they were tried for. I was expecting him to be found not guilty on at least one out of the three charges, but the jury I think made the right choice. I was proud that I made the right choice.”

 

Joel McMillon, junior

“I honestly thought that Chauvin was going to get away. I didn’t think that he was going to get charged, just because with the Trayvon Martin case, his killer didn’t even get charged, he was let out with no charges. I figured this is going to be a Trayvon Martin case. I felt like America is slowly falling into this sense of realization that there needs to be changed otherwise we cannot move forward as a country together.”

I felt like America is slowly falling into this sense of realization that there needs to be changed otherwise we cannot move forward as a country together.”

— Joel McMillon

 

The verdict

After three weeks of testimony in court, the guilty (on all three counts) verdict was announced. CNN reported that “After court concluded, Philonise Floyd [George Floyd’s brothher] was seen crying as he hugged all four prosecutors. ‘I was just praying they would find him guilty,’ he explained. ‘As an African American, we usually never get justice.'” Many students, faculty and staff voiced similar opinions and reactions to the verdict.

What was your reaction to the verdict?

Jayda Lundy, junior

“My reaction was a relief. The justice that Black Lives Matter has fought for in the last year was inspirational for giving more awareness to the black community. Relief was what I thought of.”

 

Chris Peterson, junior

“Satisfied, I would say in a way. He was persecuted as guilty, and I feel that brought some reassurance in the legal system for the people all watching.”

 

Mrs. Cheryl Alspach, RV History teacher

“I was relieved when I saw the verdict because I felt that justice had been served. There was a fair trial that had been placed, there was evidence presented, but I watched parts of the case and I felt that having watched the coverage of the trial and seeing what the lawyers presented, it was a pretty clear-cut case from what was in the trial. Guilty was the right verdict. The The system worked the way it should.”

 

Nia Plair, junior

“Very happy, it didn’t give me a lot of hope because I know that there would still be police brutality, and I knew that it was not going to completely change things immediately, but it was nice to see everyone that was in the stress testing for the verdict on the news to be happy and celebrating. It was nice to see positively around this case since it is such a serious topic.”

 

Myaa Fulton, junior

“When it was finally announced after ten hours of excruciating waiting, I was once again shocked. I shouldn’t be shocked to see justice being served, but I was. I was shocked to see that he was charged with manslaughter and murder. I did not think this was going to go to court, and I certainly did not think he was going to be convicted. But, I was very happy, and I felt that our legal system was finally doing its job and serving the public as it should.”

 

Looking to the future

Now that the Chauvin trial is over, questions of what happens next continue to raise concern for the future. Mere miles from where Chauvin was receiving his guilty verdict, for example, Daunte Wright was being shot by a police officer. RV students and faculty, like many Americans, pause to consider if–or how–things will change for people of color.

What do you think moving forward will be like, not only for our nation, but the international community as well?

Jayda Lundy, junior

“Hopefully, in the future, people will be more aware of police brutality against people of color or black people in general. I hope that the police will have a safer way of arresting innocent people.” 

 

Joel McMillon, junior

“We are going up, making moves for the minority communities in general, but a lot more has to be done. A lot more has to be done with our youth especially, we have to start opening up our youth to these situations because I know a lot of younger children are exposed to this but are not necessarily taught about what is going on. Outside of the minority community, this has to be something that is taught. History classes need to be taught their basic rights. We need to know our rights and where we stand in America.”

 

Jessica DiPietro, junior

“[For the future], I hope that there’s actual legislative change and, in the international community, I hope that other countries change as well because every country deals with police brutality.”

 

Chris Peterson, junior

“More reform on racial injustice and things of that concern. That’s what I hope for.”

 

Mrs. Linda Wittmann, RV English teacher

“We need to work together to find how to move forward. I think we need to all look for better solutions and figure out what needs to be done going forward. On an individual basis, I think that is where we both need to start. I can’t control what happens in the nation, but I can control what I do and how I react and that’s where I think we each need to look at the situation as an individual and what we can personally do moving forward.”

 

Mrs. Cheryl Alspach, RV History teacher

“I think moving forward, we want to hope that we can continue to see justice being served in our justice system like it was here. I think it’s important for our nation that our courts, our outcomes are seen as just and that we are seen as a country that lives up to the values that we have, that all men are created equal and that under our laws and our constitution that everyone has the same rights, and that those rights are accurately upheld by everyone who is in the position of enforcing those things. That human rights are human and apply equally to all people in our nation. We value those things as a society, and I think it is a good thing to make sure that aspect of our justice system lives up to those values that we claim to hold.”

 

Nia Plair, junior

“I think moving forward, the nation will take police brutality cases more seriously because when they are on the media more often, it is just more likely for the judge to get the public’s point of view, which I think is very important. I hope that this influences future cases and that people who have gone through police brutality, who are still alive can get justice while they are alive.”

 

Josh Oludoyi, junior

“I don’t think [anything] major will change from the George Floyd trial. It was a symbolic trial, it will go down in history as one of the greatest trials of our time, but there [are] many cases. Many trials before George Floyd had similar outcomes, but still, nothing has changed. I think that the true progress and the true change are not going to come from symbolic trials, they are going to come from pieces of legislation by electing leaders who actually want to make change for our community. It’s never going to come from the symbolic movements, we can have the largest protest in the world, the most symbolic, heart-wrenching trials of our time, but that is not going to change anything. Symbolism is not going to change anything. The actual change is by legislation change, and logistics will change things. The same thing goes for the international community as well. On a positive note, like many problems that we do have as a society, society is moving forward and progress is being made.” 

Symbolism is not going to change anything. The actual change is by legislation change, and logistics will change things.”

— Josh Oludoyi

 

Myaa Fulton, junior

“This is a small step in the right direction. We might have lost the battle, but we won a small victory. We did not win this war yet, it is still going on. We lost a soldier to the fight but we are still going to carry on. I cannot say what the future holds for any of us, but I surely know that George Floyd did not think that he was going to be on the ground that day, he did not expect his last day to be that day.”

 

 

Regardless of anyone’s politics, many agree that the tragic and unforgettable death of George Floyd took the nation by storm and moved an entire generation to take to the streets. The future is uncertain, but we can only hope that moving forward, justice is served and upheld in order to prevent this atrocity from happening again.

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