Arewa Karen Winters said she woke up Tuesday morning with a pit in her stomach, worried that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would be found not guilty of murder or manslaughter after killing George Floyd last May.
“I heard all the arguments the defense was trying to put up,” said Winters, the great-aunt of Pierre Loury, 16, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer in 2016. “But, at the end of the day, [the killing] was a horror. It was a horrific sight to behold. And, for African Americans, it was just so reminiscent of our history in this country and how our ancestors were treated.”
When the jury returned with Chauvin’s guilty verdict Tuesday afternoon, Winters said, she felt “elated.”
Chauvin’s verdict, she said, “restored hope in the judicial system.”
That mixture of anxiety, relief, pain and hope was common among Chicagoans who had lost loved ones to police violence.
Ashunda Harris, an urban trauma psychologist, wept as she spoke about the verdict. Her nephew Aaron Harrison, 18, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer on the West Side in 2007.
“This is justice for Aaron, Sandra Bland, George Floyd,” Harris said. “Today is a day that their spirits are rejoicing.”
Harris said she could not bear to watch the Chauvin verdict announced on TV but her friends and supporters called with the news.
“For every young African American — and the young Mexican American [Adam Toledo] who was just killed here in Chicago — today is a day for each and every one of them who was slain,” Harris said. “They just received justice today.”
For Rev. Marvin Hunter, the Chauvin verdict brought back thoughts of the day in 2018 when a Cook County jury found Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of murdering Laquan McDonald.
Hunter — a great uncle of McDonald, 17, who was shot and killed by Van Dyke in 2014 — said the Chauvin verdict is “another step toward fixing the broken criminal justice system in this country.”
That system won’t be fixed by talk alone, Hunter said. “We have to do something. And, today, something was done.”
But Hunter cautioned against too much rejoicing. He recalled his disappointment when Vincent Gaughan, the judge in Van Dyke’s trial, gave that officer a sentence that would allow him out of prison in fewer than four years.
Hunter said a similar outcome was possible with Chauvin, who was convicted on all three charges stemming from Floyd’s death last May. The sentencing will be in two months. The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison but Judge Peter Cahill could give the former cop a much lighter punishment.
Winters said she and others who had lost family members to police violence were looking to the Chauvin case as a symbolic stand-in for their own loved ones.
“For families who have been impacted, it’s triggering,” Winters said. “It’s retraumatizing. But I hope for all those families that have had trials and felt they did not get justice — we always say when one wins, we all win — we should all just be celebrating because it’s a strike against the system.”