Bay Area activists, leaders, citizens reflect on justice after Chauvin trial verdicts

Just less than a year after the world watched videos posted online of George Floyd telling Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin "I can’t breathe," citizens, community leaders, and law enforcement are reacting to guilty verdicts in Chauvin’s murder trial.

David Jones, a committee organizer with Tampa Bay Community Action, said the reading of the verdicts "felt like a moment to breathe."

"Rarely do we get these wins especially against officers who murder Black folks," he said. "Because we know that in this system Black folks are rarely given the justice that they need especially when they’re murdered by police officers."

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NAACP Hillsborough County president Yvette Lewis shared the same sentiment.

"A lot of emotions but mainly I can breathe. I can finally exhale, take a deep breath," Lewis said.

It's now been 330 days since George Floyd's death. In the weeks that followed, there were protests, but also riots and violence. 

Tuesday night in Tampa, peace and solitude ruled the day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree manslaughter, third-degree murder, and second-degree unintentional murder.

Reactions from citizens in the Bay Area varied slightly, but overall there was a sense of relief. 

"I was actually shocked. I did not believe that he was going to be guilty on all three counts, but I do believe he should be," Tracy Moraros said.

Some were shocked. Others were not at all surprised after finding out the jury deliberated just 10 hours before returning three guilty verdicts.

"We're not surprised, but we do feel, or I feel that the judicial system works the best way that it can and there are multiple sides to that story," Lori Bohart said.

Public officials and local law enforcement also weighed in on the trial's outcome.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said on Twitter, in part, "...had Mr. Chauvin done in Pok County what he did in Minneapolis, he would have been fired and arrested that night."

For many, the end of this trial does not mean the end of the fight for ongoing justice. 

NAACP President Lewis pointed out that the ex-police officer’s guilty verdict shows there must be accountability for a person’s life no matter who you are.

"You can’t keep shooting us and killing us and you go home to your family and when it gets to the state attorney’s office, they call it justifiable," she said.

Black Lives Matter Tampa co-founder & lead organizer Donna Davis added, "We’ve seen some convictions and we’ve seen some shocking miscarriages of justice as well so I would caution people on saying that this is a victory...we had Mr. Wright who was killed last week and he will not be the last person to be killed recklessly by law enforcement officers."

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The verdicts helped ease some people's concerns about possible violence, had the outcome been different.

"I thought he was guilty, somewhat, so overall I'm glad for all the United States and the world that he was guilty, to save from riots," William Berry said.

"It was pretty obvious he was way out of line, but I think the police are put under great distress and don't always really know the whole story," Doug Bohart said.

Tampa's mayor and former chief of Tampa police, Jane Castor, reflected on what the trial and verdicts could mean for the future of policing. 

"A verdict can't undo the tragedy of last summer, but this decision can ensure that George Floyd's life was not lost in vain. His death is prompting the law enforcement profession to evolve across our country," Castor said in a statement.

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Lynne Berry pointed out that the case was about the actions of one man that lead to the death of another, saying, "Chauvin didn't seem to have any regard for life. Any life, let alone George Floyd's life."

Among the people who spoke with FOX 13 News, Ashley Kohler was most hopeful everyone can learn something from what's happened.

"We are all equal. That's a very important thing for everyone to learn and hopefully, people have learned from that," she offered.