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‘Justice was served’: State, local officials and Chicagoans react to Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction

State and city officials and many Chicagoans believe justice was served Tuesday, though many acknowledged there was still work to do to “make sure our policies in Illinois value Black lives.”

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Watching the verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty on all charges for last May’s murder of George Floyd, brought Mark Clements, a survivor of police violence, back to 2010.

“You’re looking at a Chicago Police torture survivor myself, who spent over 28 years of life hemmed up inside a prison, where no one cared ... to watch a verdict come back, I was just as happy watching that verdict as I was watching when Jon Burge was found guilty for lying about police torture in the city of Chicago,” Clements told a crowd of about 30 who had gathered in Daley Plaza Tuesday evening shortly after Chauvin’s verdict was announced.

“You know what happened with brother George Floyd is an insult,” Clements said.

Floyd’s name and the words he said as Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck on the pavement — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying call last summer as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the world in a fight for racial equity.

On Tuesday, many in Chicago expressed relief and contentment upon hearing Chauvin had been found guilty.

“The people united and made that s—— happen,” said Kobi Guillory, co-chair of Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement no courtroom can “ever replace a life, but it can and should deliver justice.”

“Today, the jury in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial honored that truth,” the governor said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “Today marks a moment where future generations can look back and see that we as a nation came together and rightfully demanded justice and accountability.”

But while many believe justice was served, some acknowledged the fight for racial equity is far from over.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton called the verdict “our Selma moment,” referencing the 1965 march that began in Selma, Alabama, and was part of a series of civil rights protests.

“Make no mistake, George Floyd should be alive today, and the system still needs to change,” Stratton said in a statement.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said the verdict “suggests we may have some common sense of justice,” but he said “our work here continues, and we’re going to make sure our policies in Illinois value Black lives.”

Despite fears of possible unrest following the verdict, it was business as usual downtown Tuesday evening with tourists lugging heavy shopping bags and snapping selfies at the Bean, while locals briskly walked the sidewalks with earbuds — a stark contrast from the jubilant scene of Minneapolis, where people flooded the streets in celebration.

Damonte Scott, who was walking down Michigan Avenue, called the Chauvin verdict “a great thing.”

“Justice was served. I think it’s not something to really be celebrated, it’s just great to see things like that happen,” Scott said. “The judicial system needs to change for overall good, and I’m just happy it was a great outcome.”

After hearing the verdict, Damon Williams, of the #DefundCPD campaign and #LetUsBreathe Collective, said his initial thoughts were with Floyd’s family and the families of others who have lost loved ones to police violence and had to relive their trauma during the weeks-long trial.

But he cautioned against being satisfied with the verdict and hoped it will spur activists to keep fighting for change.

“I think it is important that we do not celebrate this or see this as a victory but just the documentation of a horrible tragedy that is unfortunately far too common in our society,” Williams said. “I hope that folks continue to resist and oppose and call out these injustices.”

He said the trial showed a shift in public discourse and attention in cases involving police use of force; he hopes the police officer who shot to death 13-year-old Adam Toledo late last month in Chicago is also held accountable.

“I hope that officer, like all officers who kill people, is removed and that his salary is reinvested into community services and that he does not receive any type of pension from public funds or taxpayer money,” Williams said.

He wants resources shifted from policing and investing in other solutions to public safety because “police violence is nothing new, and police violence will continue.”

Still, while many Chicagoans applauded the verdict, some are worried about what might happen if people aren’t satisfied with Chauvin’s sentencing, which is expected to happen in eight weeks.

Scott recalled when the National Guard was last here.

“It was uncomfortable,” said Scott, who’s lived in the South Loop for six years. “[I’m] still fearful of what’s to come.

“Hopefully, they do the right thing. Not just to make the people happy but to make everything right and just give the years that are needed for something like that that happened.”