Updated Dec. 19, 2021
The guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was greeted with relief and a bit of surprise by some in Roxbury, one of Boston’s largest Black communities.
On the surface it was just another day in Nubian Square. Commuters lined up at buses, several men were selling loose cigarettes to make ends meet, and a group of half masked men congregated on a corner talking about a day they thought they would never see — a white policeman convicted of murdering an unarmed Black man. For Benny Turner, the Chauvin verdict made April 20, 2021 anything but just another day.
“Usually they get off,” said Turner, referring to police. He said he has had many run-ins with police and was hopeful that this moment would be different.
Roxbury resident Freddie Kingwood, who was waiting for a bus, did not agree that the verdict was that far-reaching in its significance. But he said it did come as a shock.
“A real shock! They starting to listen to people now, you know what I mean," Kingwood said. "It’s about respect. And it’s going to happen. It’s proven that today.”
“I was a little surprised, to be honest, because I don't have a lot of trust in the justice system when it involves Black people in this country,” said Joscelyn Jurich, a white resident of the area. Jurich said she has been to several Black Lives Matter protests since last summer and was prepared to march again if Chauvin had walked free.
Other residents interviewed by GBH News said they were elated over the verdict, but cautioned that this was just one trial and one result in Minnesota, even if it was unprecedented.
Jessica Arthur of Roxbury was glad to hear the verdict.
"It's about time somebody, you know, was held accountable for these murders," she said. "We still have a long way to go. There's still a whole lot of cops that murder people who are still walking around. But this is a start, at least."
Activist Monica Cannon-Grant, the founder of Violence Boston, an anti-violence group, said she applauded the verdict and relief for the family of George Floyd. But she said the broader issue of police reform and “defunding” are far from being resolved.
“We still have so much work to do,” said Cannon-Grant, standing next to a mural dedicated to Black historic figures in Nubian Square. A George Floyd painting rested against it. “There's so many families that didn't get that type of justice. I think Boston is one incident away from being a George Floyd, a Ferguson. And I think often times we're delusional that it can't happen here. It happens here.”
Cannon-Grant pointed to the police killings of two young Black men, Terrence Coleman in 2016 and Burrell Ramsey-White in 2012. Both shootings were ruled justified by the Suffolk County District Attorney.
But Cannon-Grant cited the cases as examples of police immunity, which she says should be revoked.
“There are so many people who didn't get justice with their children being murdered.”
Sandra Susan Smith, professor of criminal justice at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, said the outcome of the Chauvin trial should not lead anyone to conclude that the problem of systematic racism in policing has been resolved.
Smith said in many ways, the prosecution's strategy, which presented Chauvin as not representative of the police department he worked for, is problematic, “because it takes the onus off the institution that allows for this to happen.”
“My fear is that this sends the message that, yet again, here are these bad apples, and now the police are actually doing the work to excise these bad apples," she said. "But it doesn't force the police as an institution to truly look at itself; and not just engage in reforms, but true transformation such that it might somehow be able to engage with Black and brown communities in the ways that it does with white communities. “
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Radcliffe Institute, also found the verdict welcome but “insufficient" in addressing social justice concerns. Still, said Muhammad, the Chauvin trial and verdict could serve as an impetus for substantive change at the highest level.
“We have a lot of possibilities that can happen in the next several weeks, months or a couple of years, I think, with the Biden administration, that will add more accountability, more structure," he said. "And to be frank, the fact that we are universally now having a conversation about systemic racism in policing is a far cry different than when this all began going back to the Rodney King verdict in 1992.”
This optimism was echoed by Boston’s mayoral candidates. Each has cited failed policing in their respective position papers shared with media. Acting Mayor Kim Janey said in response to the verdict, “work here in the city of Boston must continue.”
She quoted an African proverb to illustrate her point. "When you pray, move your feet,” she said.
“George Floyd’s name now represents the urgency of racial reckoning and police reform across our country," she said. "While many of us breathe a sigh of relief, George Floyd and countless others are still dead, and the conditions that led to so many senseless killings still exist.”
In Nubian Square, running for a bus, 61-year-old Michael Terry of Roxbury said he exhaled in relief after the verdict. He said any other outcome would have been an injustice.
"It was plain and cut and dry on the video," he said. "I'm just glad that it worked the way that it worked, because it's getting tiresome to see people getting killed [that] don't have weapons, over minor infractions like that.”
Regarding former officer Chauvin and the prospect of him spending many years in prison, Terry said, “He got what he deserved. And hopefully, maybe other police officers will think before thinking that they're above the badge."
Reporters Craig LeMoult and Mark Herz contributed to this story.
This story was updated to correct the spelling of Joscelyn Jurich's name.