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After Chauvin Verdict, What Does The Path Toward Justice Mean?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've been hearing this morning, a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts yesterday for the murder of George Floyd. After the verdict, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he wouldn't call the verdict justice exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEITH ELLISON: Justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice.

NOEL KING, HOST:

You heard a lot of the same all across the country. Skipp Townsend was at a gathering in Grand Park in Los Angeles.

SKIPP TOWNSEND: It's a bittersweet moment to have one moment out of millions. It is literally one moment that we will get to heal out of millions' unresolved and vicarious trauma that we suffered through through our lifetimes.

MARTIN: In Virginia Beach, former police officer Clarence Neely was feeling hopeful about the effect on those who've sworn to serve and protect. He served as a counternarcotics officer with the Department of Homeland Security.

CLARENCE NEELY: Hopefully, that puts a message out to other law enforcement officers. I'm actually retired law enforcement myself. And hopefully, that puts a message out that we just can't do stuff like that.

KING: Sheila Kyarisiima was at Black Lives Matter Plaza here in D.C. when the verdict was read. She had her 2 1/2-year-old son with her.

SHEILA KYARISIIMA: For me, who's someone with a - you know, a Black son, I think it's monumental to at least think that perhaps we're making progress towards justice for everybody.

MARTIN: What does that path towards justice mean in Minneapolis and beyond? Over the course of this trial, we have turned several times to Nekima Levy Armstrong. She's a civil rights attorney and activist in Minneapolis, and she joins us again this morning. Thank you so much for being here.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: A lot of emotions reverberating around the country and questions, really, about what - how much significance to take away from this verdict - what do you see in it for Minnesota in particular?

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, there is quite a bit of significance. Derek Chauvin is the first white officer in the history of the state who has been convicted for killing a Black person. Before yesterday's verdict, Minnesota officers had been sent the message that they could take a Black life and that there would not be any real accountability under the law, which makes it dangerous for Black people and other people of color.

MARTIN: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who we heard from earlier, called this a, quote, "powerful new opening to shed old practices and reset relationships." Do you agree it could create that possibility?

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, there are currently three additional officers who could also be convicted as a result of Derek Chauvin's conviction - the other three officers who aided and abetted him. So that would make four officers convicted in a very short window of time. And then we have charges against Kim Potter, who is the 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department who killed Daunte Wright just over a week ago. So that is a huge paradigm shift if all four of those officers wind up being convicted. I mean, it would have been unimaginable just even a month ago that something like that was possible.

MARTIN: Just thinking back to what Clarence Neely said in that clip we played above, that he's hopeful about the effect this verdict will have on police behavior, are you hearing that same kind of hope from the communities themselves inside Minneapolis?

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, there is a lot of excitement about the fact that what we would call a killer cop is finally convicted. However, we understand that this did not happen because the system worked. This happened because the people put in the work. At every hand, we had to press for the officers to be fired, for them to be charged, for there to be more serious charges and things like that. And so it remains to be seen as to how the system will respond when an officer shoots someone or has to make a split-second decision versus the circumstances of this case, which were nine minutes and 29 seconds of the pressure from Derek Chauvin's knee and body along with the other two officers on the neck of George Floyd.

That - it was - it's so unusual compared to how people normally die at the hands of police that it remains to be seen as to whether the same reaction will happen. We've had people killed since George Floyd, and so the system hasn't necessarily worked in the same way for those individuals.

MARTIN: You mentioned the other three officers whose trials will happen this summer. There's also the possibility of an appeal in Derek Chauvin's case. Chauvin's lawyer appeared to be setting the stage for that. What do you do? What - and how are activists in Minneapolis thinking about how to be involved going forward?

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, there is so much work yet to do. So, of course, we are going to be advocating for the conviction of the other three officers who helped kill George Floyd. We are also currently advocating for stronger charges against Kim Potter. We want to see murder charges in addition to those manslaughter charges that she is currently facing. We also have eight bills currently pending at the Legislature. We're part of a coalition called Minnesota Justice Coalition.

And so if folks are interested in those bills - mncoalition.org. And those bills would help to transform our system of policing. And it is an uphill climb to get the Legislature to take those bills seriously, so we need all the support we can get to make that happen.

MARTIN: Lastly, I just wonder about your own personal reflections. You've worked on this for so long. We heard George Floyd's brother say that after the verdict was read, he himself could finally exhale. I wonder if a version of that happened for you.

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. I began to weep as the verdict was being read, and I finally felt like I could breathe after almost a year. And that is what I've heard from so many African American people and other people of color in the Twin Cities and around the country - people being able to breathe a sigh of relief.

MARTIN: Minneapolis community leader Nekima Levy Armstrong, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and throughout the past year. We appreciate it.

LEVY ARMSTRONG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.