Richmond community reacts to Derek Chauvin guilty verdict

A candle burns next to homemade signs around Marcus-Davis Peters Circle as a small crowd gathers in remembrance of George Floyd on April 20. Photo by Enza Marcy

Iman Mekonen, Managing Editor

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges for the murder of George Floyd in a verdict decided Tuesday afternoon.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in May after Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck in a video that lasted nine minutes and 29 seconds. Chauvin has been convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. 

Floyd’s murder set off worldwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality last summer, including those in Richmond. 

Derrick Lopez, an active member of BLM RVA, attended the “Stand Up and Fight Back” protest in Monroe Park on April 14 that was met with a heavy police response. The protest was over the police killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Although optimistic about the trial’s outcome, Lopez was conflicted on whether justice has been served.

“Of course it’s an amazing outcome, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Lopez said.

Chauvin’s trial, which began on March 8, saw a number of witnesses, including bystanders and members of Floyd’s family. Chauvin exercised his Fifth Amendment right to not testify in the trial. 

The 12-person jury came to the unanimous decision on Tuesday. 

Richmonders gathered at Marcus-David Peters Circle on April 20 in a celebratory mood with loud music and free pizza over the verdict of former office Derek Chauvin’s trial. Local activist group BLM RVA organized the celebration.

The grassy area surrounding the Robert E. Lee monument was named after VCU alumnus Marcus-David Peters by community members during protests over Floyd’s killing. In 2018, Peters was shot and killed by a Richmond police officer on Interstate 95. Peters’ family said he was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death. The officer who shot him, Michael Nyantakyi, was cleared of criminal charges, according to an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied, and if we have learned anything from our history, it is that freedom is never voluntarily given by our oppressors,” stated VCU’s Student Government Association.

Founder of BLM RVA Lawrence West talked to local attendees at the event, throwing a football and urging community support.  

“Right now, we are in a community space: the Marcus-David Peters Circle,” West said. “That was a community space before they put the 10-foot fence up. Shine a light on community spaces, and bring light to the fact that peaceful protests are happening all around you, and stop looking the other way, but get involved.”

BLM RVA has been at the circle every day since last May, West said. They gather at the circle from 10 a.m. until sundown, regardless of the fence that encloses the monument. West said he’s grateful for the community’s continued support.

He urges all members of Richmond to speak up in the face of injustice — not just with head nods and waves — but with the energy of “a soccer mom.”

West said that while Chauvin was convicted as an individual, the Minneapolis Police Department, as well as police departments across the nation, need to be held accountable.

“The Minneapolis police disassociated themselves with Chauvin,” West said. “It was the conviction of an individual, not the police department.”

Chauvin’s conviction allows the murder of Floyd to fall under the police’s “bad apple” excuse instead of creating police reform, West said.

Other people at Tuesday’s event expressed feelings of hope regarding Chauvin’s verdict. Phuong Tran, a local resident, felt that today was “just the beginning.” She said elected officials need to be present in the community, and the community must hold those officials accountable.

“They need to listen, and they need to act. Because a lot of the time, I feel like it’s so performative,” Tran said. “There is a little calm and everyone celebrates, and then another person is going to die somewhere in America. It’s not OK. It’s not normal.

Local resident Megan Rickman-Blackwood also attended the event. She said BLM RVA has been bringing daily awareness to injustices faced by Black and brown people.

Rickman-Blackwood said she has been protesting since the summer and met Floyd’s family when they visited Richmond in July. There was a hologram presentation designed by Kaleida Hologram Co. held at the circle in memory of Floyd, according to previous reporting from The Commonwealth Times.

Blackwood said her heart went out to Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, when he testified during Chauvin’s trial. On Tuesday, she offered free hugs to anyone who needed one.

“I wanted to come out and be in this space and also offer my love and support,” Blackwood said.

VCU’s Student Government Association released a statement Tuesday night after the verdict was announced, acknowledging the disturbing events that occurred during Floyd’s murder. 

“While the trial of Derek Chauvin has the attention of the entire nation at this moment, we must remind ourselves that carceral punishment is not and will never be justice,” SGA stated.

SGA stated that protesters are often arrested, peaceful or not. President Taylor Maloney was arrested by Richmond police over the summer for trespassing, along with 16 other individuals on July 27 near Monroe Park.

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied, and if we have learned anything from our history, it is that freedom is never voluntarily given by our oppressors,” the SGA release stated.

Mayor Levar Stoney addressed Chauvin’s verdict in a statement, saying he stands with all Richmonders.

“However you decide to express your feelings as a result of this decision, I ask that you do so peacefully, safely and with respect for your neighbors and all who call this city home,” Stoney stated.

Gov. Ralph Northam stated in a Tuesday release that he prays the verdict can bring comfort to Floyd’s family and loved ones. 

“The life of George Floyd matters,” Northam stated. “He should still be alive today, and no courtroom decision can bring him back.” 

Northam said that although no courtroom decision can bring George Floyd back, the decision is an important step toward justice for the entire country.

“May we honor his legacy by continuing on this march towards justice and meaningful change,” Northam stated. “We have a lot of work ahead.” 

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