By HARRIET RAMOS
On April 20, Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of all charges for the killing of George Floyd.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter. The second-degree murder charge is the most serious and carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Chauvin will be sentenced on June 16.
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, when Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes. Floyd was being arrested by Chauvin and three other officers for allegedly buying cigarettes with a fake $20 bill.
Floyd’s death, along with the fatal shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier in the year, sparked widespread Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
“[I’m] thankful and relieved that the jury got it right,” said Dallas College Police Chief Lauretta Hill. “They listened to the evidence and saw what the whole world saw — that Chauvin murdered George Floyd.”
History faculty member Liz Nichols said she was afraid the jury would acquit Chauvin. Her first response was “utter relief,” she said.
“I think the verdict means that our country is slowly coming to realize that Black lives do matter,” Nichols said.
Another Black man, 43-year-old Eric Garner, died in 2014 after being put in a chokehold by New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Pantaleo was fired and stripped of his pension benefits five years after Garner’s death but did not have to face federal civil rights charges. Former Attorney General William Barr ordered the case dropped in 2019.
Garner’s death helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I do hope [the Chauvin verdict] means that all figures of authority will take it as an indication that they have to consider their actions far more carefully,” music faculty Eddie Healy said. “And that those who enforce the law comport themselves according to the letter of the law as it applies to them.”
Music faculty Oscar Passley said he was relieved by the Chauvin verdict, but it’s only the beginning.
“This is just a drop in the proverbial bucket,” Passley said. “This country still has a long way to go to reform police practices when engaging minority communities.”
Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but a study released by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in June 2020 shows that Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed in an encounter with the police.
Data from the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime database shows 140 law enforcement officers have been arrested since 2005 on charges of murder or manslaughter related to on-duty shootings. Only seven were convicted.
Police officers receive qualified immunity, which means they are protected from legal action in the discharge of their duty as long as they do not use excessive force. Qualified immunity has become increasingly controversial as it is viewed as one of the factors that make it difficult to hold police accountable for their actions.
Criminal justice faculty Patrick Patterson said getting rid of qualified immunity would be a step in the right direction.
“The changes I would like to see are … the deletion of immunity and unions that [have] protected officers for decades, especially when they were in the wrong,” Patterson said. “Changes at the local level would be just the same — better screening and deleting of the good ole boy network.”
Floyd’s death led for calls to defund the police in several places. Patterson said defunding the police is not the answer, but police reform is needed.
Nichols said she thinks the word “divest” is better than “defund.”
“I hope that the conversation about what policing should entail continues in earnest,” she said. “What we have currently is not working well. [Police] are not adequately trained to deal with mental health issues or domestic violence.”
Passley said the billions of dollars poured into “over-policing minority neighborhoods” should go into preventative measures instead.
“Hopefully money will be spent on education, early childhood education, after school programs, music and arts programs,”
When asked what she thinks Chauvin’s conviction means for the future of policing, Hill said policing is at a critical point.
“We must re-think and re-imagine how we deliver police services to the community,” she said. “We have an opportunity to come out stronger if we commit to working with not just our advocates but also our adversaries.”
In an email statement released after the Chauvin verdict, Chancellor Joe May said Dallas College will continue to stand with Black students and employees “to seek an equitable and just society for all.”
“The verdict is a reminder that we must continue to seek accountability for those who not only break the law, but for those who are also sworn to uphold it,” May said. “We are committed to fostering an environment that is supportive of all the diverse cultures that are represented across our seven campuses.”