Dartmouth Reacts to the Derek Chauvin Trial Verdict

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Conviction for Floyd’s murder elicits relief and a vow to continue to confront racism.

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Protestors demonstrate near the Hennepin County Government Center on April 19, the day of closing arguments and the beginning of jury deliberation in the Derek Chauvin Trial in Minneapolis, Minn.
Protestors demonstrate near the Hennepin County Government Center on April 19, the day of closing arguments and the beginning of jury deliberation in the Derek Chauvin Trial in Minneapolis, Minn. (AP Photo) 
4/21/2021
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The Dartmouth community responded to the news that a Minneapolis jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts—second-degree murder, third degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter—in the death of George Floyd, with statements of relief and a commitment that the work of confronting racism will continue coming from administrators, faculty members, alumni, and others in the community.

The jury returned the verdict after 10 hours of deliberations in the murder trial of Chauvin, who is white, for the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died on May 25, 2020, after being handcuffed and pinned by the neck, under Chauvin’s knee, for more than nine minutes.

In a message to Dartmouth students, faculty, staff, alumni, and families shortly after the verdict was announced, President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 wrote, “As we reflect on today’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, we must remind ourselves that while the case has reached its rightful conclusion, our work in addressing the underlying systemic racism that led to George Floyd’s murder has only just begun.”

In his message to the community, President Hanlon vowed that George Floyd’s death would not be in vain.

“In our role as an academic institution, we will fiercely combat racism in all its forms. We will continue to shed light on these issues through peaceful, thoughtful engagement with the diverse perspectives that exist on our campus. We will work tirelessly to instill an anti-racist ethos on our campus and to create a culture that is not only welcoming and inclusive, but supports, nurtures, and celebrates the talents of every member of our community,” Hanlon wrote.

In addition, Hanlon announced that an online panel discussion and audience question and answer session about the issues the killing of Floyd has forced the country to confront will take place Thursday, at 6 p.m. Watch the discussion.

Samson Occom Professor Bruce Duthu ’80, who chairs the Native American Studies Department, will lead the panel. The panelists will be Susan Brison, the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values; Matthew Delmont, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History and special advisor to Hanlon on initiatives such as recruiting and retaining Black faculty and other faculty of color; and Deborah King, associate professor of sociology.

Dartmouth Trustee Neal Katyal ’91, a former U.S. acting solicitor general who was a member of the prosecution team in the Chauvin case, said that he hopes to speak about the case at Dartmouth. He will argue the appeal, if there is one filed in the case, so he is not able to speak now, Katyal said.

After the verdict, Katyal said it was his Dartmouth education that led him to a career in the law.

“It was first in Professor Ray Hall’s Sociology classes that I began thinking seriously about race in America. I know sometimes Hanover feels estranged from the rest of the world, but the truth is this: My being able to do this work is directly tied to my time at Dartmouth and what Professors like Ray and my fellow students taught me.”

On Wednesday afternoon, at the end of his town hall meeting, held via zoom, Executive Vice President Rick Mills took a moment to reflect on the verdict.

“These are words from Rick Mills,” he said. “These are not words from Dartmouth. But on the day following the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder, I wanted to say that we should all take time to read President Hanlon’s message to the community. And I would just ask that we all reflect on what we can do to try to address and ameliorate this phenomenon of systemic racism and what our part can be, because the work is only beginning.”

The following faculty members offered thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. The following are their own words:

Susan Brison, the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values

I was not expecting Derek Chauvin to be found guilty on all three charges, so I’m surprised and relieved, but I’m not elated. As the prosecuting attorney himself argued, this was “not a prosecution of the police. It [was] a prosecution of the defendant.” The systemic racism at the root of policing and mass incarceration in this country was not addressed in this trial. And, to most people, this is, in no way, an anti-police verdict; it’s a pro-police verdict, and it will be taken by many as a sign that justice has been done, that the system is working. But this verdict will not, on its own, bring about the significant changes to law enforcement urgently needed in this country.

Although this verdict is highly unusual, Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd is not the anomaly the prosecution made it out to be. Since testimony in the trial began on March 29, at least 64 more people, more than half of whom were Black or Latinx, were killed by police officers. A 20-year-old African American, Daunte Wright, was fatally shot by a white officer in a traffic stop just 10 miles from the courthouse. And, about 20 minutes before the Chauvin verdict was announced, a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer in Franklin County, Ohio, which has one of the highest rates of fatal police shootings in the U.S.

It was never a good idea to expect law enforcement to handle social issues—homelessness, poverty, unemployment, mental illness, discipline in schools, drug addiction, among others—that are themselves exacerbated by a racist system of mass incarceration and can only be resolved in other ways. We need to put an end to policing as we know it and replace it with a system that truly serves and protects everyone in our communities rather than terrorizing all too many of us. 

Matthew Delmont, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History

After hearing the verdict, the first person I thought of was Darnella Frazier, who was 17 years old when she filmed the final minutes of George Floyd’s life. She testified at the trial that she was on her way to the convenience store with her 9-year-old cousin on Memorial Day when she saw Derek Chauvin arresting, and then slowly killing, George Floyd. 

Frazier’s video was not the first to capture evidence of police violence against Black people and it won’t be the last. But in this case, the video had a catalyzing effect. Without Frazier’s video it is difficult to imagine that George Floyd’s murder would have sparked protests across the country and around the globe. The video was also key piece of evidence in the trial and certainly played a role in the jury’s guilty verdict. 

Frazier said she was traumatized by what she saw outside of Cup Foods in Minneapolis on that day, and that after the video went viral, she faced harassment online. I saw this morning that she said she felt joy and relief after hearing the verdict and felt that George Floyd and his family had received justice.

I share this sense of relief at the verdict, but I also want to hold space for Frazier and all the other witnesses of police violence for what they must deal with mentally and emotionally after the news cycle has moved on.

Professor of History Annelise Orleck

The Chauvin verdict enables us to breathe, but not to celebrate. It does not bring back George Floyd. But it is a small measure of justice in a society where police have killed more than 1,021 civilians in 2020 and 999 in 2019. A dramatically disproportionate number of those killed by police were (and have always been) Black and Brown and Native people. As Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said of the Chauvin verdict: “I would not call this justice. But it is accountability.” That is something that has been exceedingly rare in our justice system. Almost none of those police who shot or choked or beat to death thousands of civilians have been charged, tried, convicted. That’s why Chauvin’s conviction is such big news.

It is stunning that there was ever a doubt that Chauvin would be convicted of murder. Thanks to a teenage bystander who recorded Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd in cold blood, (and was deeply traumatized by what she witnessed) the whole world watched a slow, cold-blooded act of murder in real time. It is staggering that, despite that, there was ever a question about what verdict the jury would return. Take that in. We doubted that there would be a conviction because so few police have ever been held accountable for the murders they have committed. Because there was no accountability in the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice or 7-year-old Ayana Jones killed by police while she slept on her living room couch. Because there was no justice in the murder of Staten Island street vendor Eric Garner, whose murder was also recorded by bystander Ramsey Orta, who was himself then harassed and targeted. Because there has not yet been justice in the murder of Breonna Taylor, shot to death by police while she slept in her bed.

It mattered in this case that Keith Ellison is attorney general of Minnesota, a man who today said “the work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us.” It mattered that Minneapolis Chief Arredondo was willing to testify that what Derek Chauvin did was a crime. It mattered that prosecutor Steve Schleicher so forcefully rejected arguments that tried to excuse cold blooded murder by attempting to dehumanize George Floyd. And yet I and many others were horrified that Schleicher and George Floyd’s brother Philonise felt they had to repeatedly remind the jury that George Floyd was a human being—loved by his family, that he was a man who loved his mother so deeply that, at 46, he was teased about being “a mama’s boy,” that he cried out for her as he was being killed.

We have a long way to go. We still live with a deeply racist justice system that only very rarely holds police to the same legal standards as the rest of us. It is unspeakably devastating that police in the same county killed unarmed 20-year-old Daunte Wright while the trial of Derek Chauvin was going on, that Chicago police shot to death Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy with his empty hands in the air, while the Chauvin trial was happening. But, as a crying man on the streets of Minneapolis said moments after the Chauvin verdict came in “hopefully this is a new day in America.”

If it is, if anything changes, we owe that to the millions of young people of all races who took to the streets last summer after George Floyd’s death, not for one march, or two, but for weeks and months. Those marches were not simply protests but became occasions where young people of color all over the U.S. testified, told stories of their own encounters with violent police, where young white people came out in solidarity, where old people who had been marching for racial justice for half a century came out one more time.

A small measure of justice today. May it be just a beginning.

Associate Professor of History Julia Rabig

This verdict secures a measure of justice for the family of George Floyd, and hope for the family of Duante Wright, and others whose killers have yet to be brought to justice. But will this trial set a precedent for holding police accountable?

The circumstances appear distinctive from other cases because of the large number of witnesses who provided consistent testimony about (and visual evidence of) Chauvin’s actions. Other law enforcement also criticized Chauvin, which we don’t see often. Police more commonly close ranks around the accused.

What may be more predicative than any one trial is the movement that escalated outside Cup Foods and spread globally in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Images of victims, the voices of victims’ families, and Black Lives Matter activists reached a wider audience of people willing to listen and take to the streets, to demand change and make it happen. In this way, the conviction of Derek Chauvin may become an enduring indictment of a murderous system.

William Platt can be reached at william.c.platt@dartmouth.edu.

Aimee Minbiole can be reached at aimee.minbiole@dartmouth.edu.

Written by
Bill Platt and Aimee Minbiole