As news spread of the guilty verdicts for former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd last summer, reaction poured in from around the Region.
Here is a sampling of what local government leaders, police officials and others were saying:
“I am satisfied with the verdict in the Derek Chauvin verdict," Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said in a statement. "Like most Americans, I was horrified at the way Mr. Chauvin tortured and killed George Floyd. In this case, the jury made the right decision and showed we can achieve moments of justice in our country.
"Every day, police officers across our country put their lives on the line and do the best they can to protect our communities. It is often horrifying and always tragic when our public servants devalue human life.
"Soon, the police reform commission we formed in Gary will make recommendations on their findings in their examination of our own police department," Prince continued. "My team and I will carefully consider their recommendations and decide what, if any, steps we will take then.”
Local defense attorney James Dillon Sr., a former police officer in Gary and for Valparaiso University, was caught off guard by the guilty verdict.
“I was very surprised, in fact I am still processing it,” he said. “This was not a normal verdict, because we have had people on tape in these situations before. The shooting of Tamir Rice was on tape and nobody's in jail for it. (Eric Garner) who was put in a chokehold in New York was also on video. So being on video doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I already braced myself for a not guilty verdict, or a conviction on a lesser included charge.”
Dillon said there were many chances for Chauvin to de-escalate the situation. He said with this verdict, a corner has been turned.
“I am relieved because as a black man, it seems the value of the life of a black man is not recognized in the judicial setting,” Dillon said. “I hope this case brings positive changes to law enforcement, and I think it already has.”
Purdue University Northwest professor Collete Morrow hosted a virtual discussion following the verdict’s announcement Tuesday afternoon. Morrow and Teela Sucacin, also an educator within PNW’s English Department, agreed that witnessing the trial in the wake of George Floyd’s death has had a profound impact on younger generations.
“I have seen so many students be woken up during all of this,” Morrow said. “I have taught a long time, starting in 1994 at Purdue, and I taught at different places before that, and I have never seen such a critical mass of young people so aware of the challenge of racism and what it means to those it effects. I feel it's awakened empathy and a commitment to equity and racial justice that I think will be lifelong.”
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, released a statement on behalf of the Indiana Democratic Party.
“The murder of George Floyd was a shameful tragedy that the entire world witnessed," Melton said. "Many of us were left heartbroken in the days, weeks, and months following Mr. Floyd’s death because video evidence made it clear that it was unreasonable to use lethal force, and in the process, we lost another black American way too soon. Thankfully, the jury reached the right decision and justice will be served. It is my hope now that a proper sentence is given that fits the crime committed and our entire country can use this case to transform the relationship and trust between people of color and the police."
"Like many members of the public, I have watched and been horrified by the videos of the death of George Floyd," Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said in a statement. "This case presents law enforcement with an opportunity to reflect and improve upon the manner in which we engage with our communities. It is not part of the standard procedure of officers of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department to apply subdual methods like the one highlighted in this case. Conversely, it is the duty and responsibility of all officers to help protect the public; including individuals in our custody."
Portage Mayor Sue Lynch said, "The murder of George Floyd was an eye-opening event for so many Americans. Today's verdict, rightfully so, held the officer accountable for his actions. However, this doesn't solve the problems of inequality in our criminal justice system. My hope is we all start to recognize, and correct, the systemic racism that communities and people of color experience throughout the entire country."
Burnham Mayor Robert Polk said of the trial: "I'm glad that it has come to a conclusion and justice was served."
Michigan City Police Chief Dion Campbell said the criminal case against Derek Chauvin will “cause law enforcement agencies to review their existing policies and procedures and bring them in alignment with the current expectations and burdens of what good policing looks like in 2021 and beyond.”
“It will force departments to re-examine training modules and ensure that the actual application of targeted training is executed at the street level,” he said. “The hiring process will be highlighted as the screening methods that gauge how well an individual is suited to interact with the community where he/she may be employed.
“Police departments must become very efficient in communicating quickly and clearly the actions of law enforcement officers in different scenarios to combat the speed which false narratives travel on social media,” Campbell added. “Public information officers will be critical for police departments.”
Kim McGee, a member of Black Lives Matter-Gary, said the organization does have a representative on the Gary police reform commission. McGee said BLM-Gary members have been calling for a new investigation and accountability process for handling police-involved incidents, such as a civilian review board.
“We thank the jurors for doing what was in their power to remove Chauvin from our streets,” McGee said. “This is one of thousands of killings by police that unfortunately will continue. We have local matters that are still languishing, such as the 2019 Melvin Bouler case. This war is not over and we won't let our guards down. We stand with George Floyd's family, knowing that too many families have to suffer this pain, and that the only real justice is not having to live with police terror. We must fundamentally change this system. We continue to stand with the families here in NWI and everywhere who will never see a day like this verdict. We all deserve much more.”
Griffith police Chief Greg Mance said of the Chauvin case, “There’s no doubt that it’s further eroded the faith that people have in law enforcement, particularly in the Black community.
“It’s something that we as a profession need to work to address. I think the first step in doing that is acknowledging publicly the abuses that have been made by our predecessors. Hopefully, by doing that, we can build a foundation to rebuild — or perhaps build for the first time with many — a trusting relationship.”
Mance predicted the Chauvin case could spawn systematic changes in police departments. He cited a recent measure in Indiana that altered the process and expanded the circumstances under which officers with records of serious misconduct may be considered for decertification.
Mance also called for changes to the profession that would benefit officers, including higher salaries, more time off and better access to mental health resources.
“These officers — the vast majority who have gone through the process correctly and were picked because they were the best — these officers didn’t have these issues when they came into this job. But because of some of the issues and some of the social ills that we’re forced to deal with, they develop them over time. For too long, we’ve just been turning a blind eye to it and treating them like they’re expendable," Mance said.
“No courtroom can ever replace a life, but it can and should deliver justice," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. "Today, the jury in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial honored that truth.
“My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd, who deserve to have him alive today. I’m also thinking of all our black communities and other communities of color who see their children or their parents or themselves in George Floyd, and Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo, and Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald.
“This verdict marks an important milestone on the journey to justice, but the fullest measure of progress is how we deliver accountability, safety and meaningful change."
Chicago Urban League President Karen Freeman-Wilson, a former Gary mayor, said: "Today, many Americans collectively breathed a sigh of relief. For black Americans, there was also a glimpse of justice against the backdrop of lives snuffed out at the hands of law enforcement. With this verdict, rendered by an impartial jury who have listened to the evidence, we hope that we are one step closer to accountability for all who fail to value Black lives.
"While systemic change must occur for a full measure of justice, we will all sleep better knowing that the deeds of Derek Chauvin were on trial and not the life of George Floyd. May the spirit of George Floyd, along with each of his family members, rest easier tonight knowing that — in this one instance — justice was served."
Times Staff Writers Anna Ortiz, Lucas Gonzalez, Bob Kasarda and Mike Clark contributed to this story.
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