‘We Matter’: A Moment of Catharsis After the Derek Chauvin Verdict

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MINNEAPOLIS — Outside the Cup Foods convenience store where George Floyd was killed last May, a woman nearly collapsed in tears upon hearing the guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Mr. Floyd.

“We matter,” she said, straightening up. “We matter.”

In one Minneapolis neighborhood, jubilant residents honked horns and banged pots and pans out their windows. Hundreds of people who were facing the courthouse began pumping their fists in unison as the news whipped through the crowd. “Guilty!” they shouted, and then began to chant: “All three counts! All three counts!”

When Minneapolis heard the verdict in the trial of Mr. Chauvin, it was a moment of catharsis for many in the city, a scene of collective relief and satisfaction that he had been convicted of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in Mr. Floyd’s death.

Those scenes were echoed, sometimes in quieter ways, across the country, as Americans paused from working, running errands or picking up their children from school to listen as Judge Peter A. Cahill announced the verdict. For some Black Americans in particular, the moment was especially poignant, an affirmation that justice had been served for Mr. Floyd.

Don Jackson, a 33-year-old tech worker, was rushing out of work in Chicago’s Loop district as the news of Mr. Chauvin’s conviction spread through downtown. “I didn’t have a lot of hope that they would get it right,” he said of the jury. “But they did.”

In the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta, a block from Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rema Miller, 49, was sitting outside a cigar store having a celebratory puff on Tuesday.

“I honestly feel some type of relief, because we’ve been carrying a lot,” Ms. Miller, a retired juvenile counselor, said. “We felt like history was going to repeat itself. He was going to get convicted of the lesser charge. And so we’ve prepared ourselves for that.”

In some cities, people said they could not even bear to watch.

Tifanny Burks, 28, who organized protests last summer with the Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward in South Florida, said her mother texted the news to her about the guilty verdict on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a sign, a beacon of hope, that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Ms. Burks, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

But she also said a verdict in a single case still meant only that — one verdict.

“The criminal justice system is really not going to provide accountability and the liberation that we’re looking for,” she said. “We need police departments to be defunded. We need to defund the police department that failed George Floyd.”

In some communities, people spoke of relief that the verdict might avert the prospect of civil unrest, which was experienced by many cities in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death last year.

Lucy Putluk, who lives in suburban Highland Park, Ill., and works in Chicago, lamented the way downtown businesses had been boarded up pre-emptively.

“How come every time there’s a trial, we have to worry about riots, and we have this?” she said, pointing to a hovering helicopter. “OK, great, shut up, people. You got what you wanted.”

In New York, the announcement of the verdict was a burden lifted. At Washington Square Park in Manhattan, where most people appeared to have been drawn by the warm spring weather, a small crowd yelled “Guilty!” after the verdict was announced. Nearby, flowers ringed a makeshift memorial to Daunte Wright, a Black man who, like Mr. Floyd, was killed during an encounter with police officers in Minnesota.

Several blocks away at Union Square Park, Gurpreet Singh, 46, said he felt elated by the verdict. While nothing could bring Mr. Floyd back, Mr. Singh said, “at least this one wrong has been righted.”

On the sidewalk in front of the county jail in downtown Portland, Ore., Cyncyrie Cruz got the long-awaited news of the verdict by way of a phone call from her boyfriend.

“What is it? Tell me,” Ms. Cruz asked as soon as she answered the call. She started pacing, then cheered and put her fist in the air.

But while Ms. Cruz said she was grateful for what she viewed as a step toward accountability, she also did not see the verdict as an end to a larger struggle for racial justice and against police brutality.

She said she was not hopeful that Mr. Chauvin’s sentence, to be set at a later date, would be sufficient.

“This isn’t something that’s just happening in Minneapolis, in Minnesota,” Ms. Cruz said. “This is the entire country.”

For some Americans who had closely followed the trial, the verdict was surprising — different, they said, from what they had come to expect in cases involving the police.

Juan Carmona, the head of the social studies department at Donna High School in Donna, Texas, a town of 16,000 on the border with Mexico, said he had been listening to the trial on the radio. For him, a defining moment had come when the Minneapolis police chief testified for the prosecution, stating clearly that Mr. Chauvin’s actions went against the department’s training.

“That blue wall of silence may be finally cracking,” Mr. Carmona said. “Police officers are like anybody else, and they’re seeing what’s happening in the country.”

Shaila Dewan reported from Minneapolis, and Julie Bosman from Chicago. Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker from Portland, Ore., Campbell Robertson from Pittsburgh, Patricia Mazzei from Miami, Simon Romero from Albuquerque, Robert Chiarito from Chicago, and Sarah Maslin Nir and Anushka Patil from New York.

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