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A protester holds up a painting of George Floyd during a police brutality protest near Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz in August of 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
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‘Work far from over’: Santa Cruz activists, leaders react to Derek Chauvin’s guilt in George Floyd’s murder

From all four mayors of Santa Cruz County’s cities to Congressman Jimmy Panetta to local community activist Bella Bonner and others, locals described Chauvin’s conviction as a time for reflection and a call to further action for social justice.

A jury on Tuesday afternoon found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all counts in the death of George Floyd — a decision sparking reaction across the nation and locally here in Santa Cruz County.

In May 2020, video footage showed 45-year-old Chauvin pin Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for nearly 10 minutes during an arrest while being assisted by three other officers. The video showed Floyd pleading with officers and eventually losing consciousness and dying at the scene.

The case set off a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S. with nationwide protests, including in Santa Cruz, where police Chief Andy Mills and then-Mayor Justin Cummings took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters during a community event weeks after Floyd’s death.

Chauvin faced three charges: Second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury found him guilty on all counts. The jury was made up of six white people and six Black or multiracial people. The verdict, arrived after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days, according to the Associated Press.

The most serious charge for which Chauvin was convicted carries up to 40 years in prison. Sentencing will happen at a later date.

Reactions to the verdict poured in Tuesday afternoon from local activists and leaders, many of whom also cited to the recent deaths of Daunte Wright in Minnesota and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, both by police officers.

Here are some of those reactions:

‘A measure of justice but no consolation’

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the NAACP issued a statement saying the verdict against Chauvin was not enough, pointing to other victims of police brutality and urging “not only reform but completely (rethinking) the U.S. system of law enforcement.” The group’s statement reads in part:

“The arc of the moral universe bent a little closer to justice today but there is still a long way to go. A badge is never a shield for accountability. This trial serves as a reminder of the urgent need to pass legislation to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by preventing police brutality and allowing survivors and families of victims access to justice.

The group further wrote:

“This verdict offers a measure of justice but no consolation to the family and friends of Mr. Floyd. The time is now to not only reform but completely rethink the U.S. system of law enforcement.

‘Justice is not a single act of punishment’

Activist Kayla Kumar, a community organizer who does work with incarcerated youth, encapsulated the events in Minnesota as “very complicated and emotional day.” She elaborated:

“How can we say individual accountability is enough when Black and Brown people continue to face disproportionate, ongoing harm vis a vis policing? If our system ‘worked,’ police wouldn’t be murdering people in the first place. And if the system of mass policing could figure out how to stop murdering people, I believe Adam Toledo would be alive today.

“Justice is not a single act of punishment. Justice is a world where George Floyd is alive. He is alive because his life is not viewed as necessary collateral damage of a system that was built to defy his human dignity so that others may feel more safe.”

‘The word justice just doesn’t feel fitting’

Activist Bella Bonner, who rose to prominence last year in Santa Cruz County as one of the loudest voices at the police brutality protests that followed Floyd’s death, was at her home Tuesday when the jury delivered its verdict. When the verdict came down, she said she was “sad because it’s the same house I lived in when I was waiting for the Trayvon Martin verdict back in the day.”

Bella Bonner
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Bonner added:

“It breaks my heart that I feel like the bar is so low and our standards are so jaded and low,” she said. “The word ‘justice’ just doesn’t feel fitting. I’ve gotten a few texts from people wanting to celebrate and I just can’t wrap my head around that. ... I do feel the sigh of relief for sure, but I just feel so heavy and sad.

“I want to find a level between celebrating wins but also, what is a win when a life is lost and the system that enabled it is still in place? And last week, about a week ago, down the block, Daunte Wright was murdered. It hurts almost more sometimes for people to think this is ‘it.’”

‘A community built on trust’

Keisha Browder, CEO of the United Way of Santa Cruz County, called on Santa Cruzans to see Chauvin’s conviction “as a time for sober reflection and a rededication to the cause of racial justice, social equity and constructive, non-violent dialogue that builds the respect and trust so sorely needed, especially between law enforcement and communities of color.”

She added that “our society has an obligation to work to remove barriers for and provide support for all people. It is in this calling and work that we will move toward a vision of a community that is built on trust, safety and security for all.”

Mayors urge healing, peace

Tuesday afternoon, the four mayors of Santa Cruz County’s cities — Capitola’s Yvette Brooks, Watsonville’s Jimmy Dutra, Santa Cruz’s Donna Meyers and Scotts Valley’s Derek Timm — issued a joint statement to residents urging healing and peace regardless of the verdict. It read in part:

“We ask that our community join TOGETHER as we move toward justice and healing.

“The heartbreaking murder of George Floyd and many other people of color has highlighted the systemic problem of racism throughout our country. We are by no means close to ending the hundreds of years of injustices put on the shoulders of people of color. As leaders in Santa Cruz County we have the responsibility to implement and encourage change in our region. We stand with all communities of color, including the very ones we represent here in our diverse county.

“We urge our community to come together today and every day in peaceful solidarity.”

Former Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings, who along with Police Chief Andy Mills took a knee with protesters last year, issued a statement on his Facebook page after the verdict was handed down:

‘This is not a time to celebrate’

Minutes after the verdict was read in a Minneapolis courtroom, Central Coast U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, tweeted a statement saying that while “justice prevailed ... our work is far from over.”

‘We must end this cycle’

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive also said in a statement that the work was not over. She also noted resources in place for any students who might need support after the verdict. Her statement reads in part:

“While I am relieved by and grateful for today’s verdict, it does not bring back George Floyd, a man who was clearly loved by many. As we work toward real systemic change, we must hold close the aspiration that next week, next month, next year, there will be no more victims to grieve, but we know the reality and fear that many people face daily.

“What has unfolded in recent weeks — the senseless killing of Daunte Wright by police in Minnesota, the tragic death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by law enforcement in Chicago — shows us how much more work still must be done to get to a more just, equitable society. America faces not only a pandemic, but a contagion of violence — mass shootings, a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, a public safety system that leaves many people feeling unsafe.”

Read her full statement here.

‘Goosebumps hearing the verdict’

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Sonja Brunner...

“Relief! I had goosebumps hearing the verdict! The Chauvin trial jury verdict today was definitely an uplifting needed step towards healing. It was a relief. I don’t know of any other instance where an on-duty police officer was held accountable for killing an unarmed black man. I hope this case serves to propel us on a path forward towards healing, social justice and racial equity, because there is still so much progress to made, and George Floyd will forever be that reminder!”

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