Chicago activists and politicians praise guilty verdict in George Floyd murder but differ on what comes next

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune
·8 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

As people celebrated in the streets of Minneapolis following Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction Tuesday, Chicago activists and politicians praised the verdict as an important step toward achieving justice for people of color while offering different views on what comes next.

For many activist groups who’ve protested Chicago police killings from 17-year-old Laquan McDonald to 13-year-old Adam Toledo, the jury verdict is the culmination of nearly a year of global protests and provides momentum for more demonstrations calling for cutting police spending and abolishing departments.

“We know that the conviction of one police officer is not going to end police killings,” said Aislinn Pulley, co-founder and organizer for the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. “We know that empirically here in Chicago.”

Many politicians, however, included no such sweeping reforms in their statements, and instead tried to appeal to a broader constituency of voters horrified by Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd but who still support police in general.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, said the verdict was the only reasonable one and marked “a moment where future generations can look back and see that we as a nation came together and rightfully demanded justice and accountability. ... Pray for peace as we continue on our journey towards a more just and equitable world.”

Chicago aldermen used the verdict to criticize Lightfoot for not moving faster on civilian oversight of a Police Department with its own long history of killing Black and Latino people. Lightfoot campaigned on the issue and called it a 100-day priority, but has opposed a measure proposed by activists and aldermen, and hasn’t formally introduced her own plan.

“Community organizations and advocates have come together in support of a police accountability ordinance that has been languishing on Mayor Lightfoot’s desk,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th.

The Minnesota jury’s unanimous decision comes less than a week after Chicago officials released a video showing a white Chicago police officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village. The teenager was mentioned in many of the statements released immediately after the verdict.

At a small rally in Daley Plaza following the conviction, protesters held a banner that read “Justice for Adam Toledo” and called for the eradication of the current police structure.

“The police are not keeping us safe,” said Kobi Guillory, co-chair of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “The violence comes from the fact that people are poor, people are hungry and people are desperate.”

Guillory said he’s repeating the same things activists said in 2018, when a Cook County jury found Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer in a half-century to be convicted of an on-duty shooting.

“We still have to eradicate the system of white supremacy,” Guillory said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose office is reviewing Toledo’s death, did not reference the boy’s killing or the Chicago Police Department in her statement after the verdict. In a message posted on Twitter, she said the conviction stopped short of “justice” for Floyd because it does not bring him back but said it is a step toward accountability.

“As we waited with bated breath on behalf of a man who cried out that he couldn’t breathe, today is a small measure toward healing,” Foxx wrote. “His murder has forced us as a nation to reckon with its racist legacy, that permeates all institutions — particularly the criminal justice system.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the verdict “an important milestone on the journey to justice.”

“No courtroom can ever replace a life, but it can and should deliver justice,” Pritzker said. “The jury in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial honored that truth.”

The governor said he was thinking both of Floyd’s family and “all our Black communities and other communities of color who see their children or their parents or themselves in George Floyd, and Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo, and Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald.”

A criminal justice overhaul Pritzker signed into law earlier this year, which the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus pushed in response to Floyd’s death, includes ending cash bail and requiring all police officers to wear body cameras, among a host of other changes.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the first Black lawmaker to hold the position, said the finding of guilty “suggests we may have some common sense of justice.”

“There’s nothing to celebrate, though, as a system that allows this to happen still prevails,” Welch said in a statement. “This year our legislature passed historic police reform, and we will continue to build on that. Simply put, our work here continues and we’re going to make sure our policies in Illinois value Black lives.”

The three-week trial drew several comparisons to Van Dyke’s case, with both marking a rare instance in which a police officer in the United States has been convicted of an on-duty murder. Van Dyke’s jury deliberated for roughly the same amount of time as Chauvin’s panel, and both cases hinged on damning video evidence.

Dan Herbert, who represented Van Dyke, said he believes Chauvin was guilty of a crime, but questioned prosecutors’ decision to charge him with two counts of murder along with manslaughter.

“Manslaughter, I wouldn’t argue with any of that. He clearly did that, committed it,” he said.

But in Herbert’s view, the murder charges were not appropriate for the specific circumstances of Floyd’s death, and that could make Chauvin’s convictions on those counts vulnerable to be reversed on appeal.

Herbert was careful to say he did not reach that conclusion out of sympathy for Chauvin, who he said “has done more to set back law enforcement than any individual in decades.”

“It’s just (that) I don’t think the rule of law was followed,” Herbert said. “And nobody seemed to care because it’s a police defendant, which I think is troubling.”

At the start of the trial, the Rev. Marshall Hatch traveled to Minneapolis and walked the neighborhood where Floyd was murdered. Even knowing the strong evidence that would be presented, Hatch said he was unsure of the outcome at the time.

“As a Black man, I am always skeptical about if justice (will) be served, even with a video,” said Hatch, senior pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood. “And it would have been very difficult for this country for this conviction to not happen. The whole world saw a crime being committed.”

Hatch said he draws hope from the diverse Chauvin jury, which included four Black members, six white and two people who identify as multiracial. From his standpoint, the panel represents what could be possible if prosecutors, police departments and judiciaries were equally inclusive.

“We’ve made a case here for what could happen if we really pursued a multiracial democracy,” Hatch said. “We could actually have a more just criminal justice system.”

Others were more skeptical about the verdict and what it could mean for future generations.

Dominique Franklin Sr., whose son died after being Tasered by a Chicago police officer in 2014, said he was “not impressed” with the conviction, because he felt the criminal justice system only responded out of political pressure. Like Floyd, his 23-year-old son, Dominique Franklin Jr., died after police responded to a report of a minor offense.

His son fled as officers tried to arrest him for the alleged theft of a bottle of vodka from a downtown convenience store. An officer deployed his Taser, and Dominique Franklin Jr. fell and hit his head.

The father said it is frustrating and exhausting to consistently see images of Black people being killed by police. He pointed to Floyd’s cries for his dead mother as the officer knelt on his neck, saying “I couldn’t explain the terror you must have had to call on someone to help you that’s already dead.” He said he’s constantly reminded of his son’s death by other acts of violence by police.

“You don’t get to move on. It happens every day,” Franklin said. “Every time you see it, you have to relive what you went through. Mentally, you never get to heal and move on.”

The father of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times in August by a Kenosha police officer, said the verdict “is not a stride, it’s a step.” He said he has spoken with Floyd’s brother Philonise almost every day during the trial and believes that justice was served.

But until the country passes major reforms — including the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year and has not yet gone to the Senate — the problems will persist.

“I’m ecstatic that George got justice, but I understand the system that we’re up against,” said Jacob Blake Sr., whose family has deep roots in the Evanston community. “I’m not persuaded by what happened today. I understand that we still have a long, long way to go.”