By Kate Christobek
Less than an hour after the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin was read in Minneapolis Tuesday night, New Yorkers gathered outside of Barclays Center, the same location that hosted weeks of protests and confrontations with the NYPD last summer over the death of George Floyd.
Advocates celebrated the jury’s verdict finding Chauvin guilty on all counts including second-degree murder. They led chants of “Say his name – George Floyd,” renewed their vow to fight for the accountability of the police, and encouraged continued activism, pointing directly to the success of advocacy in getting to this verdict.
“The verdict against Derek Chauvin would not even have been remotely possible without the year of millions of people across the country taking to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd,” said Collin Pelletier, 28, an organizer with New York Community Action Project, who attended the first day of protests at Barclays last summer.
Bree Darby, 23, a graduate student, also went to the 2020 protests after watching the video of Floyd’s death. But she didn’t join in. Instead, Darby watched from the sidelines and cried, overwhelmed when she realized that any of her family members could have been Floyd. Yet on Tuesday night, Darby cautiously celebrated the verdict.
“While I think this is the right step forward, I don’t think this is justice,” Darby said. “I think this is just accountability for (Chauvin’s) actions.”
Unable to attend the protests last year, Ralph Poynter, 87, co-founder of the New Abolitionists Movement, said Tuesday night at Barclays was his first public appearance after undergoing radiation for cancer during the pandemic. Calling Chauvin’s guilty verdict “a moment, but not a particularly happy one,” Poynter said that real accountability in the criminal justice system will only come when laws and politics are changed.
“People all over the world are marching but black people are still getting killed in the same way,” Poynter said.
Speaking beneath the Barclay’s Center projection of a quote by the late U.S. Representative John Lewis “We will stand up for what is right, for what is fair and what is just,” elected officials and advocates addressed the growing crowd holding painted photos of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Dozens of NYPD uniformed officers stood silent behind temporary gates.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that while he was relieved at the guilty verdict, he found it hard to celebrate knowing the same injustices happen in his own jurisdiction.
“It’s not just Minnesota,” Williams said. “We can’t pretend like it’s other places. It’s right here.”
Other advocates pressed the NYPD for maintaining the same culture of silence that protects bad actors such as Chauvin. Hawk Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, said that he advocated at City Hall on Tuesday to pass the “Blue Wall Bill,” which would hold officers legally accountable for falsifying reports.
Najja Plowden, 40, also grabbed the microphone during a silent moment requesting public comment. He said that calls for reform don’t go far enough in reimagining policing after George Floyd’s death. Plowden sued the NYPD in 2017 alleging that he was falsely arrested while walking his dog in Crown Heights.
“If you’re not screaming for abolishment, you’re not helping,” Plowden said. “This has got to change. Our lives need to matter more than your systems.”
CORRECTION: In the original version of the story, Bree Darby’s last name was misspelled. It has been updated. We regret the error.