Sara Rubin here, nearly one year after attending the first of many local protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and one hour after watching live on my computer screen as a judge read aloud the jury’s verdict in the case against Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, killing him.
These two experiences could not be more different—one energized and dynamic, one staid and procedural, even in the moments as a sheriff’s deputy hand-cuffed Chauvin and took him into custody. The jury found him guilty on all three counts (second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter). The trial was not without emotional intensity—multiple witnesses broke down to varying degrees as they testified—but it’s a reminder that justice happens in ways big and small.
It happens in the streets, where protesters lay their demands out to the world. It happens in the courtroom. And it happens in the interstitial spaces, the conversations we have with each other in between, talking to people we know about race and racism in America, and in our institutions, as police chiefs lined up to issue statements a year ago condemning Chauvin’s conduct—an incredible break from the norm. That break continued today when Peace Officers Research Association of California President Brian Marvel swiftly issued a statement in support of the verdict: “George Floyd was a man in distress and crying out for help, and his death should not have happened.”
But we still have a long way to go. Justice in one case, one closely watched case with clear video footage, does not mean justice for all.
I called Tyller Williamson after the verdict today to ask how he was feeling. “It’s very much a great feeling right now,” is how he answered. Williamson is a member of Monterey City Council—its only Black member, and one of just a handful of Black elected officials in Monterey County—and he was also one of the organizers of that first protest on May 30, 2020.
“It’s important that we celebrate these types of moments,” Williamson says. “This is a win—these are the types of wins that we need. But it’s important that folks know the work doesn't stop here.”
I asked Williamson if he feels safer today, as a Black man in the U.S., than he did before the surge of Black Lives Matter and attention on the disproportionate use of violence by police against people of color. He doesn’t—it’s still a work in progress that will take more than one case. It’s something that might take a generation, or longer.
Sometimes I hear people say that protesting is frustrating, that it feels like it doesn’t matter, that it’s just speech when what we need is change. But I like to think that speech leads to change. On May 30, when I rolled up to Window on the Bay to report on that first protest, it was immediately clear to me that this was different. The group was far bigger than any I’d ever seen assemble there, the messages were personal, and many of the people I met were first-time protesters. The video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd was too much for people to bear, so they showed up because they didn’t know what else to do. And because they showed up, the world today is different.