‘Bittersweet moment’: Relief, calls for vigilance in the Triangle after Chauvin verdict

Brooke Cain, Ben Sessoms, Julian Shen-Berro
·4 min read

A jury in Minneapolis on Tuesday found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges related to the death of George Floyd, a Fayetteville native, in May of last year.

In the Triangle, which saw a weekend of protests against police violence, a peaceful response so far. In downtown Raleigh Tuesday, it looked like a typical day, a sharp contrast to last summer when Floyd’s death sparked daily marches and protests in Raleigh, Durham and across the country.

Local activists, those who organized some of those protests and have sought systemic change in area law enforcement, felt a sense of relief at hearing the verdict.

“I definitely exhaled,” said Greear Webb, a UNC-Chapel Hill student and a member of North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Planning Committee.

“But in that same breath, I recommitted to speaking out against injustices,” Webb told The News & Observer in a phone interview.

That theme was echoed in Fuquay-Varina, where about 25 people gathered outside Fuquay-Varina’s Town Hall to protest for Black Lives Matter and to celebrate the guilty verdict.

Even with a guilty verdict, the Fuquay-Varina protesters stressed the continued need for vigilance and that more needs to be done to achieve justice for Black Americans.

“This is one verdict of many that needs to take place across the country,” said Derek Anders-Turner, 44, who is from Minnesota and was visiting family in the area.

“This is just celebrating some justice, not all justice, some justice for Mr. Floyd today,” he said.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in police custody on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. A bystander recorded the arrest, during which Floyd can be heard saying, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe.” Three other officers stood by and did not intervene.

About 25 people gathered outside Fuquay-Varina’s Town Hall on April 20, 2021, to protest for Black Lives Matter and to celebrate the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. The protest was organized by Emancipate NC.
About 25 people gathered outside Fuquay-Varina’s Town Hall on April 20, 2021, to protest for Black Lives Matter and to celebrate the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. The protest was organized by Emancipate NC.

The protest was organized by Emancipate NC, a statewide group that advocates for racial justice reforms.

The organization has been involved in organizing efforts to protest an incident in the town in January, when Fuquay-Varina police officers handcuffed Malcolm Ziglar, a Black 14-year-old, in his yard after he was falsely accused of stealing a dirt bike.

Cheryl Carter-Ellis, 58, who is involved in those organizing efforts, said the community still demands justice for the incident.

“We cannot forget these things when something happens,” Carter-Ellis said. “It takes a little bit of our heart, our humanity.”

She said if the incident with Ziglar had escalated, he could have been another Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old who was shot and killed by Chicago police in late March.

Nine-year-old Mason Wadsworth was at the protest with his mother. He said that he hopes his generation can enact more change for racial justice in the future.

“We have to keep fighting. We have to keep marching,” Wadsworth said. “I hope the world will be a safer place for Black and white people.”

‘A step in the right direction’

As the verdict was about to be read Tuesday afternoon, a Black-owned barber shop in Cary went quiet except for the buzzing of razors.

When the word “guilty” was read, At the Right Cut owner Jesse Padilla shouted, “Woo!”

“It was something we were all waiting for,” said barber Eder Jamil. “The verdict we knew he deserved.”

Padilla said he was happy to see Chauvin held accountable.

“It is not the end, but a step in the right direction,” said Padilla.

Jesse Padilla, owner of The Right Cut Barber Shop in Cary, N.C., and customer Andrew Bardsley watch as the verdict is read in the trial of Derek Chauvin Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Padilla said he was happy to see the verdict and see Chauvin be held accountable. “It is not the end but a step in the right direction” said Padilla.
Jesse Padilla, owner of The Right Cut Barber Shop in Cary, N.C., and customer Andrew Bardsley watch as the verdict is read in the trial of Derek Chauvin Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Padilla said he was happy to see the verdict and see Chauvin be held accountable. “It is not the end but a step in the right direction” said Padilla.

Local social justice advocates speak

Webb said he told people not to treat a guilty verdict as a celebration.

“Definitely take time to reflect and feel relieved, but don’t treat this as a celebration, because there’s still so much work left to do,” he said. “This is accountability, and it’s long overdue, but it’s not true justice. It’s not. True justice would be George Floyd still alive with us today.”

Webb said true change will take education, protest and policy change. “I think we’re waiting on that last leg.”

He called on federal and state government to pass laws to hold police accountable and mandate what officers can and cannot do when engaging with a suspect.

“I firmly believe that young people in this moment can continue to advocate, push for change, and be that catalyst to getting us to true justice instead of just accountability.”

Kerwin Pittman, a social justice advocate and member of the NC Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, told The News & Observer in a phone interview Tuesday that the path forward involves pushing for change through litigation, legislation, education and protesting.

Pittman, who helped plan protests in Raleigh after Floyd’s death last year, said he was expecting a possible guilty verdict, but was still surprised when it happened.

“I was extremely shocked, but elated at the same time,” Pittman said. “It was a bittersweet moment. Bitter because George Floyd had to lose his life, but sweet because we’ve finally seen the justice system really function and help those out who normally wouldn’t have justice at all.”

Chauvin — found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — will be sentenced in eight weeks.

Visual journalist Ethan Hyman contributed to this report.