When activist and Berkeley High School (BHS) parent Marc Staton heard the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial, he experienced a wide range of emotions. “There was no joy in it. There was relief, there was a certain amount of satisfaction that justice, in this case, had been served. But it didn’t feel joyful,” he expressed.
On April 20, 2021, twelve jurors convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – the murderer of George Floyd – of all charges. This decision came after months of protests, and what many saw as a global racial reckoning. In the days and weeks following this verdict, a complex mix of emotions continue to be felt by many.
Kira Norwood, a Black BHS alum and Berkeley resident, said, “I’m very glad the case went the way it did but … do we literally need to protest for months to get something like this? I’m happy but I’m not satisfied. I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in this situation at all.”
“I’m happy that he was found guilty and that the message was sent to the rest of our nation that this Black life mattered,” said Andrea Prichett, a leader of Copwatch, the global volunteer-based organization that monitors police activity. Prichett continued, “That said, in the days since that verdict, we have seen quite a number of in-custody deaths at the hands of police.” Nine days before the verdict, on April 11, Daunte Wright was shot by a police officer in Minneapolis. On March 29, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed by police in Chicago. These shootings reminded many that the trial verdict was not the kind of justice that would save lives, or come close to ending police brutality.
However, the trial and the weeks that followed did spur action in local activist groups, such as the Berkeley Community Safety Coalition (BCSC) and the Racism and Criminal Justice Reform group (RCJR). “The RCJR group in Berkeley… and the BCSC… were really formed in response to some of these incidents and the worsening of police and community relations, particularly in the black and brown community,” Staton explained.
Now, it’s organizations like these that have started to answer the question of what we need to do moving forward from the verdict. Both students and activists emphasized that this verdict is not the end, and it should be used as a way to push the movement onward. What must happen before true justice can be attained?
One solution has been propelled by groups like BCSC and RCJR: the development of the new Specialized Care Unit (SCU), an action that could drastically change policing in Berkeley.
The Specialized Care Unit was proposed by Councilmember Ben Bartlett in June of 2020, and was passed on July 14. In the initial proposal to the city, Bartlett wrote, “The city should re-allocate resources to a Specialized Care Unit (SCU) consisting of community crisis workers tasked with responding to non-criminal calls such as mental health, people in crisis, addiction, traffic, etc.”
Both Prichett and Staton are in support of this SCU. Staton said, “A specialized care unit [would] take some of the burdens of mental health calls off of the police, and to an agency that might have more patience and more ability to calm the situation rather than just react with police force.” Prichett emphasized that the 2 million dollars needed for this unit should be taken out of the police budget, and encouraged BHS students to call council members and get involved in making that happen.
Prichett also noted how the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has evolved. “A lot of the movement now is saying we have to provide community-based alternatives to the police… if we take off this layer [of policing], and take off that layer, pretty soon you’ll find that you didn’t need police in the ways that you thought you did,” Prichett said.
Isadora De Liberty, a biracial Black senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), believes that police reform will not solve the problem of police brutality in America. She said, “The police as we know it needs to be abolished. I think there needs to be a very complex series of events that involves building stronger communities with stronger mental health services, stronger drug rehabilitation services, and harm reduction services.”
When the Jacket spoke to three BHS students, all agreed that police reform is not enough. “There’s still gonna be racism that’s embedded in the foundation of the system,” said Leonora White, a junior in Academic Choice (AC). “You can’t just take it out, you have to destroy it.” The American policing system was founded to capture enslaved people, and many students believe that it will never break away from this legacy.
“I think a lot of people hear ‘abolish the police’ and it sounds like this big scary thing,” said De Liberty. “It’s really less about getting rid of the police and more getting rid of the need for police.”
The question remains: what is justice for George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and so many others? Can the verdict of this trial, in the case of Derek Chauvin, be considered justice?
“I think I agree with a lot of people that justice can’t really happen in a situation like this,” said De Liberty. “I don’t really believe in like an eye for an eye, you did a bad thing, so you deserve to be punished in the same way. Once the damage is done it can’t be undone.”
When asked what justice would look like, Norwood said, “A complete reconstruction of this entire country… reparations. Like actual physical reparations, along with mental counseling, for literally everyone… We need to raise the bar for what we as a community will accept. They’ve been giving us scraps this whole time and they’re expecting us to be full off that.”
Norwood continued, “Justice is abolishing the police, making sure stuff like this doesn’t happen again. You can’t give George Floyd his life back, but you can make sure that other Black people don’t lose their lives to police brutality. And that’s the closest thing to justice that we’re gonna get.”