In the late afternoon of Tuesday, April 20th, 2020, Derek Chauvin was convicted of second degree manslaugher and third-degree murder for his role in the death of George Floyd. Minneapolis protesters huddled together in the biting cold, chanting synchronously as the highly anticipated verdict was announced after a year’s worth of massive emotional and political upheaval.
“HELL ******* YEAH,” Nicole Ekezue (Green Hope ‘21) exclaimed in a reaction to the trial. “OF COURSE HE’S GUILTY.”
The footage of the moments leading up to George Floyd’s death in May 2020 was overwhelmingly visceral, inciting a vehement movement not just limited to the streets of Minnesota, but across the country. Reactions were raw, tensions between the police and numerous minority communities running at an all-consuming high. But amidst the tears, raging fires, and bullhorn blasts came a sense of unity for students of color in Wake County.
“Well I’m not going to say we’re completely relieved,” Victoria Smith (Enloe ‘21), the President and Founder of the Wake County Black Student Coalition (WCBSC) said. Her voice was hoarse, parched throat strained from the events of the previous night in Raleigh, where demonstrations against recent police killings of black citizens took place. “…we’re happy that this [the verdict] happened, but at the same time we’re really sad and upset – not because of what the verdict was, but more upset that something like this [the death of George Floyd] happened in the first place. We all know that it’s the system that’s corrupt … There are so many cases, even in our hometown and backyard, that haven’t received justice.”
Smith, alongside fellow Enloe senior Yakob Lemma, founded WCBSC to unite students and bring awareness to those issues minority groups face in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS). According to Smith, the coalition covers “a lot of different grounds” including but not limited to sexual assaults, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, Student Resource Officer changes, etcetera; members have organized protests, town halls, and more in efforts to bring about reform. She said it was important to “create a space” for students to come and “just be” and “fight for change”.
“If I’m going to be honest … God, it’s going to take years upon years. I don’t think there will ever be a day where we ‘solve racism’ or find all the answers. Our history was born on the back of slaves … racism is so deeply rooted in our history. I don’t think I’ll even live to see that day when there is some form of true racial equality,” Smith concluded.
Students of other racial backgrounds resonated, too. Sid Ravi (‘21), the Executive President of Green Hope Student Council, said that the verdict was “Justice… but more work needs to be done.”
“In terms of actual equality for people of all backgrounds…” Ravi elucidated. “A simple court win doesn’t solve those issues.”
Vaibhav Hariram, a rising freshman at Enloe, even expressed worry that the verdict might cause fervor to cease. “It’s great I guess, but this is bad. Support for Black Lives Matter will die down.”
Though the trial this afternoon did result in a “guilty as charged”, Chauvin’s sentence has yet to be announced. Numbers of organizers have called for those active in demanding justice in the George Floyd case to stay involved. In a tweet, New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) stated that “accountability is not the same as justice,” claiming that “real-overdue” change has the potential to occur if citizens “channel this moment” into creating it. And on the local scale, members of WCBSC have elected to form an advisory committee for graduating members of the coalition, hoping to sow the first seeds in a long-lasting battle for equality.
But for now, James Carlin (Green Hope ‘21) sums up today’s events in one solemn sentence: “…it’s a bad day to be Derek Chauvin.”