Chauvin Trial End Brings Relief And Exhaustion To Watchers In Bloomington-Normal
After weeks of mounting tension during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, observers in Bloomington-Normal expressed mixed emotions Tuesday after the guilty verdicts from a Minneapolis jury that heard testimony in the killing of George Floyd.Some felt validation that police misconduct did not go unpunished. Others looked ahead to the still tangled and fraught dialogue on race and police in the nation and in central Illinois. Still others said they felt injured from the trial and the images of Floyd’s death seen over and over on replay.
Leaders with the Bloomington-Normal NAACP said the Chauvin verdict provided justice, but it does not minimize the discrimination the Black community faces on a daily basis.
Local chapter vice president Carla Campbell-Jackson said too many other people of color have died at the hands of police.
“Hopefully, that message will resonate across the country. You do not have the right to unnecessarily take the life based on your pre-conjured stereotypes, racism, whatever it may be,” Campbell-Jackson said.
She said the jury that convicted Chauvin demonstrates why diversity is needed in all walks of life. The jury included six white people, four Black people, and two who identified as multiracial.
Bloomington-Normal NAACP President Linda Foster said the guilty verdicts show the power of the words, “I can't breathe.” George Floyd uttered those words shortly before he died.
Foster said the jury showed it's time someone finally listened.
“Today is a beginning for all those who never understood, couldn’t understand, don’t want to understand what those precious words mean,” said Foster, adding she traces those words back to her ancestors who escaped slavery and others who were lynched because of the color of their skin.
“We will not continue to feel inferior and feel that we are not capable of fulfilling the American dream,” Foster said.
She said she was grateful to see Chauvin's former colleagues testify against him and that local police condemned Chauvin's actions.
Foster said every police department and community in the country was on trial.
Impact from weeks of testimony
Not only did emotions ratchet up as the trial went on with a backdrop of other police killings around the nation that included 13-year-old Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright, but coverage of the case was itself hard to watch for many people.
“Even from seeing short clips, it's the re-traumatization of witnesses. I saw a clip about one breaking down on the stand, so the court had to take a recess. So, it's like tertiary trauma," said Miltonette Craig, a professor of criminal justice sciences at Illinois State University.
Craig said she refused to view the trial and read articles and headlines instead.
“Even though that was hurtful, too, at least I didn't have to physically see the trauma that was going on that was happening to people on the stand as the prosecution was presenting its case," said Craig.
Others could not abstain, and Craig said that repeated exposure to the 9:29-minute video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd until he died might have long-lasting effects. Craig said those who feel raw after the trial should find a way to decompress.
"I think it's best to discuss it and process it in a way that makes sense and look at it in a way that can have some sort of positivity, or we'll be forever crushed by the weight of that negative experience of watching," said Craig.
ISU President Larry Dietz touched on that issue in a message to the campus that noted the trial "reopened painful societal wounds rooted in systemic racism."
Dietz said that pain recalls the importance of supporting each other individually and collectively.
‘I want to take a moment to ask our students, faculty, and staff to please reach out for help if you are experiencing feelings of fear, hopelessness, anger, or despair. In these relentless times, we may be distanced, but as a Redbird community we do not have to be alone,” said Dietz. “While it is prudent for leaders to call for calm, I must also call on our campus community to practice care. Care for one another. Care for ourselves.”
The road ahead
Now that the jury delivered its verdict, observers are turning to how it might inflect the national dialogue on race and police. ISU professor Michael Gizzi said the decision is a "signpost not a turning point on the road."
“It helps because in some ways I think it might help cool down tempers a little bit. It might alleviate some tension. But there is so much work to do on police reform," said Gizzi.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker added “the fullest measure of progress is how we deliver accountability, safety and meaningful change.”
Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul noted the case does not mark the end of systemic problems that have tolerated police misconduct.
Gizzi expressed some skepticism that large-scale change can happen soon because it must be delivered, he said, by lawmakers.
"The challenge is that no one wants to be painted as being weak on crime and so historically it has been very hard to do, and law enforcement has strong unions and prosecutors are in the same camp. I would say in the last half a century, legislatures have not had the political will to do what they need to do," said Gizzi.
Gizzi said there is still much to do to hold police accountable.
“They are the only entity in government that is largely allowed to regulate themselves," he said.
Twin City police agencies noted both the officers who testified against Chauvin and many around the nation were full-throated in condemnation of what he did. Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said that is what he expected of professional officers -- that they would speak out against other officers who engage in misconduct.
And Bleichner said police agencies, including his own, already have begun implementing changes based on the failures in the Chauvin case. One of those involved other officers on the scene who did not force Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd.
Bleichner said his department acted to address that failure last summer.
"We really expanded the duty to intervene for us when we looked at it. We have a duty to intervene for our staff when they see something happen with one of our officers, regardless of rank," said Bleichner.
Bleichner said that is now part of the scenario training that repetitively drills officers to react in certain ways.
"Hopefully, the role players do a good enough job the officers see the indicators: the officer’s speech, their anxiety levels, their yelling and doing things like that. Hopefully they will pick up on those cues and intervene early on in the scenario," said Bleichner.
Bleichner said his and other police agencies also have made de-escalation training more robust.
Another facet of the Chauvin trial is that it was not conducted by prosecutors who had relationships with Minneapolis police. Often, prosecutors and police have close relationships because of their work on the same cases and it can become difficult to act in a way that could harm that relationship. Bleichner applauded the avoidance of the appearance of a conflict of interest in the Chauvin case through the use of a special prosecutor.
"I think there are some opportunities there for prosecutors. I think it takes away that potential for impropriety. I think it adds to the transparency. So, I think it's a good thing," said Bleichner.
And Gizzi said having state attorneys general handle prosecutions of police accused of wrongdoing might be a workable model going forward.
Whatever happens, no one said they thought the road ahead will be short or placid.
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