Local activists hopeful verdict in George Floyd case will usher change as GTA police express ‘desire to be more responsive’
Published Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:12AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 21, 2021 10:44AM EDT
Local activists are hailing the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death, but say that the guilty verdict is just a starting point for more work that needs to be done to combat systemic racism in policing.
Chauvin was convicted by a jury Tuesday on all three counts in connection with the May 25, 2020 death of Floyd, who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for around nine minutes while bystanders screamed and pleaded with him to stop.
The horrific killing was caught on video and seen around the world, igniting mass protests and calls for police departments to be reformed or even defunded.
“My reaction is relief,” Lawyer and human rights activist Knia Singh told CP24. “It was very tense, thinking that if America continued the history that they have of exonerating officers in these type of situations, what would have happened to Minnesota today.
“This signals a change, its signals something that the community in the United States and Canada – across the world – can start to have confidence in police forces when it comes to accountability in regards to taking the lives of black men.”
Singh said he is hopeful that the three other officers who were present will also face justice for not having done anything to stop Floyd's murder.
However he cautioned that the video evidence in the case played a key role in Chauvin’s conviction and that other cases might not benefit from such clear evidence.
“I hope that it ripples across the entire world of criminal justice to say that when police interactions with Black men or particularly any marginalized community are observed, that there is taken into account that not all incidents are going to have a video recording from start to finish like this one did,” Singh said. “I’m very worried that if there wasn't video evidence, this officer would have gotten off.”
Black Lives Matter Canada Co-founder Syrus Marcus Ware said he's encouraged that people seem to be recognizing that the verdict is a starting point rather than an end.
“I’m hopeful that people are being critical, that they're not just taking this verdict as the end but rather the beginning of our work in order to make sure that we end police brutality,” he said. “There's already been more killings since George Floyd was murdered. The killings continued right up until last week so we still have a lot of work to do and I think that seeing people recognizing that is giving me hope.”
Police acknowledge ‘hurt, anger, frustration and fear’
A lightning rod for pent up frustration and anger over decades of systemic racism in policing, Floyd’s death elicited promises of change from police forces around the world, as well as public officials.
Responding to the verdict, Toronto police acknowledged in a statement that “there will be long-standing impacts on Black communities as a whole and not just on those with lived experiences of discrimination in the justice system or by police. We acknowledge the hurt, anger, frustration and fear that many may still be feeling at this time.
“As a Service, we have been listening, learning, and changing over the past year and it is our desire to be more responsive to the communities we serve, including our Black residents.”
The force said the process of change is a “journey we will continue to take, in partnership with our Black communities as we stand with them on this day and in the future.”
While Toronto City Council has agreed to roll out body-worn cameras for officers and to shift some police functions to civilians, it has resisted calls to arbitrarily slash the police budget, as some activists have called for.
The force is also engaged in an unusually long search process to find a new chief of police in the wake of former chief Mark Saunders’ departure last summer. The police board has said that it is committed to getting it right and has said it expects the search for a new chief to wrap up by the end of the year.
Peel police also acknowledged the verdict, saying “this event affected communities globally, along with our local communities.
“We acknowledge this and are continuing to lead meaningful work towards eliminating systemic discrimination and anti-black racism - locally, provincially and nationally. It will be based on listening, open communication and collaboration.”
While Durham police did not immediately release a statement, Durham Region CEO John Henry and Chief Administrative Officer Elaine Baxter-Trahai said more action is needed.
“We need to continue to stand together. We need to continue the momentum of this day to keep pushing forward to disrupt anti-Black racism, against social injustice and strive for equity for all; even though this is yet another painful reminder of the bias and racism that still exists in our society,” the pair said in a statement. “In Durham Region, Black lives matter. We remain united in solidarity, with our Black community members, to create meaningful change.”
Singh said some of the responses that are already emerging show the George Floyd case has forced police forces to confront how they deal with marginalized communities.
“I think police have become more cognizant of their relationship with communities and this verdict actually will send a signal to all of them that you can be held accountable if you take someone's life, especially in the manner that George Floyd's life was taken,” he said. “So yes, I'm not only hopeful, I see it happening before our eyes.”
Federal officials also weighed in following the verdict Tuesday.
“In the US today, we saw accountability for the murder of George Floyd. But make no mistake, systemic racism and anti-Black racism still exist. And they exist in Canada, too. Our work must and will continue,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole issued a similar message on Twitter, writing “justice has been served. Racism has no place in our society and brutality should never be part of wearing a uniform.”
- With files from CP24’s Jackie Crandles