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'All Three': Connecticut Reacts To The Derek Chauvin Verdict

Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Keren Prescott of Power Up CT speaks to community members outside the Capitol in Hartford after reaction to the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021.

In Bloomfield, half a nation from Minneapolis, Cornell Lewis sat listening on his car radio to a verdict he’s been awaiting for almost a year. 

As Judge Peter Cahill worked through the counts against former police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, Lewis’ eyes opened wide.

“We the jury in the above entitled manner as to count three: second degree manslaughter, culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty.”

“All three,” said Lewis, a Black activist working primarily out of Hartford County. 

“I’m truly shocked because I thought they might find him guilty on one verdict,” he said. “But not three.”

Lewis had been planning a response to this verdict for a month. He said he’ll carry out those plans because the outcome of one trial doesn’t mean things have changed for Black people.

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Sun Queen, co-founder of Black Lives Matter New Haven, speaks to community members on April 20, 2021, at the New Haven Green and reflects on the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.

“Just because they found him guilty does not end the fact that America has to do something about systemic racism,” he said. “We’re still going to march and protest even though he has been found guilty on all three charges.”

Lewis led protests in Wethersfield in 2019 after Anthony Jose Vega Cruz was shot and killed by a police officer. The Chauvin verdict was announced two years to the day of the shooting of Vega Cruz. 

About two hours after the judge read the verdict, people gathered outside the state Capitol in Hartford to reflect. Keren Prescott, the founder of Power Up CT, said she had a lot of anxiety earlier in the day as the verdict was read. But hours later, she felt better. She came to the Capitol to be among Black and brown people and people she calls “co-conspirators.”

“It is also a moment to stand in solidarity with the people who were out at 38th [Street] and Chicago [Avenue] nonstop out there in Minneapolis and saying, ‘We all the way over here in Connecticut, we heard your cries and we were going to fight out here for you.”

Bishop John Selders was at the Capitol, too. He represents Moral Monday CT.

“That’s where I am: This moment to say, ‘OK. There is some rightness, some justice in the midst of what has been way too long a struggle of police brutality and injustice,’” he said. 

Sometimes Daryle Breland plays tennis at Edgewood Park in New Haven with his friends, and sometimes they just hang around and talk.

That’s what they were doing Tuesday afternoon when the verdict came down. Guilty on all three counts.

"That’s what it should be,” Breland said, and his friends agreed.

Breland said he saw a little bit of progress in the verdict. But not much.

“It shows that times have changed a little bit,” he said. “But this one is like it was a cut-and-dry case and they pumped it up to make it look like once again, America is doing something for minorities but they’re not.”

Daryle Breland was hanging out with his friends at Edgewood Park in New Haven when the Chauvin verdict came down. Breland is a former detective with the New Haven Police Department. He was pleased with Tuesday's verdict but hopes Chauvin gets a significan
Credit Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Daryle Breland was hanging out with his friends at Edgewood Park in New Haven when the Chauvin verdict came down. Breland is a former detective with the New Haven Police Department. He was pleased with Tuesday's verdict but hopes Chauvin gets a significant sentence.

Breland was a detective with the New Haven Police Department, and he’s retired now. He interpreted the charges for his friends. He said Chauvin should have been charged with murder in the first degree, because his intent was to kill Floyd. Breland and his friends brought up the names of other Black men who died at the hands of police and weren’t afforded the same kind of guilty verdict. Eric Garner and Botham Jean.

“That’s the world we live in, so once again Black man beware,” Breland said.

So, while the group of friends said it was the verdict they were hoping to hear, it’s little comfort given the many Black lives lost to police violence.

Later in the evening, a small group of activists gathered on the New Haven Green in response to the guilty verdict. Meredith Benson, a member of Black Lives Matter New Haven, said this trial and the recent police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright impacted her emotionally.

“I cried for like three days,” she said. “It’s not that other murders didn’t touch me, but for some reason this one really made me very emotional.”

Benson’s son is around the same age Wright was. She said one specific detail about the case affected her.

“It was written that he called his mother right before to say he was being pulled over by the police officer,” she said.

Ala Ochumare, co-founder of Black Lives Matter New Haven, said she is joyfully indifferent and angry at the system. She was proud to hear about the jurors’ decision -- but she also mourned a report about police use of force on a shoplifter in New Haven. And she sees the opportunity now to focus on transformative justice.

“It would allow the people who are most harmed to create the thing that they really need,” she said.

And that, she said, could be a response to crime by people in the community, rather than the police.

Meanwhile, the cautious welcome of the outcome was echoed around the state.

“While today’s ruling will grant the Floyd family a small measure of the justice they deserve, it is an anomaly,” Connecticut Treasurer Shawn Wooden said in a statement, saying the justice system has offered only inconsistent protections for Black and brown people. “As the father of two Black teenage young men, I have had the difficult but necessary ‘talk’ about what to do in the event they are stopped by a police officer.”

“But,” he went on, “today’s verdict gives Americans a renewed sense of hope … The system has to change. It has to work for everyone.”

Bishop John Selders
Credit Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Bishop John Selders welcomes community members to a gathering at the Capitol in Hartford after the guilty verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021.

Union leader Rochelle Palache said that, while justice was delivered, the work is not done.

“While justice was delivered today, we must never forget Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown and all of the victims for whom justice was denied,” said Palache, head of the union 32BJ. “The fact still remains that police shootings are a leading cause of death among Black men, yet few officers are ever charged and even fewer are convicted.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker in a statement commended the jury and called the verdict “one slight semblance of justice.”

And he said in his own city, the New Haven Police Department continues to work on reform and community relations. 

“We are working hard to ensure accountability on officers and re-envision policing through the efforts of our Police Commission, which is comprised of both community representatives and experts in policing reform,” he said, citing the creation of a crisis response team and the implementation of de-escalation training.

That sentiment was echoed by Hartford’s mayor, Luke Bronin.

“Those of us in elected office must continue to stay committed to the work of strengthening relationships of trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and that work is as urgent and important as ever,” he said.

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Community members at the New Haven Green reflect on the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd on April 20, 2021.

“True justice would be George Floyd alive today,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal in an emailed statement, “but this guilty verdict provides emphatic, necessary accountability. No verdict in a single case can eliminate racism or correct the injustice that continues to afflict our country. There is so much more work to do.”

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.
Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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