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Local officials and leaders react to guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin case

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens to his defense attorney make closing arguments on Monday during his trial in the death of George Floyd.
Court TV via Associated PRess
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens to his defense attorney make closing arguments on Monday during his trial in the death of George Floyd.

A jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges in the killing of George Floyd, including 2nd-degree murder. The trial was being watched closely around the nation, including in Wilmington, where local officials are weighing in on what the verdict means for our region.

Related: Jury finds Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilt on all charges

New Hanover County NAACP President Deborah Dicks Maxwell said the “fate of the country” was in the jury’s hands, and she felt they made the right decision -- one that’s crucial to future police reform, she said.

“I'm thankful that America took its blinders off something they call justice the day. There's so many who did not receive justice, who are no longer breathing. I can't even expound on those names. But today, as one of my friends told me, this one time, we got justice in the face of so many losses. And this sends a signal to all the Derrick Chauvins who are still working out there. That we’re working on reform -- and this is not acceptable,” Dicks Maxwell said.

New Hanover County NAACP President Deborah Dicks Maxwell on the Derek Chauvin ruling.

Dicks Maxwell said she wants to see statewide reform measures move forward, but also to see law enforcement officers follow guidelines already on the books.

“We need them to follow guidelines, follow policies. And if they cannot, please leave law enforcement. Just go home. Because we're working on reforms where you won't get another job and law enforcement either.”

Wilmington City Councilman Kevin Spears had mixed emotions and reflected on what it’s been like to be Black in the United States over the last four years.

“It’s kind of weird. I’m happy --- but I mean 2021, we're still dealing with this stuff. Finally got one right. It’s just, four years feels like we’ve been held hostage, man. So tense, so, so extremely tense -- you can't really say that we felt safe driving. Can't say that we feel safe at home. Concerned about ourselves, our family members, it’s so much, man. I’m just kind of relieved. Glad that they got it right. Honestly, just glad that they got it right.”

Wilmington City Councilman Kevin Spears on the Derek Chauvin verdict.

Asked if he felt more optimistic following the verdict, Spears said he felt more work was needed.

“No, I don’t think I got there that quick. I hate to say it, but it's America, it’s America man. And, you know, I felt like they knew everything was on the line this way… you know, it's up to us good Americans, us good people to keep pushing this thing forward, man, and get away from this talk. All the talk has to go out the window is about action man is about positive action. If you are concerned about the lives of people, you got to show it ... I think for the moment, we did have to relish in this when and then wake up tomorrow and strap up our boots and go to work.”

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said he felt the jury made the right decision, based on what he called “overwhelming evidence,” but that the death of Floyd and the trial of Chauvin will be with the nation for a long time.

“Well, you know, I think this tragedy and this trial are going to be etched in the soul of America, I really do,” Saffo said.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo on the Derek Chauvin verdict.

Saffo reflected on the protests in downtown Wilmington last summer and hoped that Floyd’s death.

“I mean, we saw obviously, significant demonstrations for a couple of months, even in our hometown, and we even had some incidents here that could have really gotten out of control, where people were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest against this type of police brutality and something that's been going on for quite some,” Saffo said.

Saffo said he hoped the ensuing reckoning on racial justice would have a direct and beneficial impact on Wilmington.

“My hope is for us is that we take something terrible and turn it into something positive by making this a more just and equitable community. And I believe that this also spurred an initiative that the city is really, as delved into with his Rise Together initiative, where we really are talking about putting significant dollars into breaking down these walls of systemic racism, look at the areas of poverty in our community that we've constantly been trying to address and have a more focus than more, I think, have a plan of action that we can look at and see where have we gone and what have we done to address the issue that the community needs to be addressed.”

During Tuesday night’s Wilmington City Council meeting, Councilman Clifford Barnett, Sr. struck a similarly hopeful note.

“Today, with the verdict in Minneapolis, I was excited, because for many people it’s another opportunity for hope, it’s another opportunity for us to realize that we still want to get things right. We gotta lot of work to do -- but there’s opportunity for hope.”

Written statements from local officials

Wilmington Police Department Chief Donny Williams issued the following statement:

As we look towards Minneapolis – communities across this country are responding to the verdict. I remain committed to leading a law enforcement agency that will continue to make necessary changes in the way we police and ensure that everyone is treated with compassion and dignity. We encourage you to pray for the men and women of our agency as we give you the best service possible. Thank you for your support as we work to make Wilmington a safe place for all.

UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli sent the following statement to campus:

Now that the verdict in the State v. Chauvin case has been announced, the question on the minds of many of us today is this – where do we go from here? For far too long, communities of color have borne the brunt of social and racial injustices that have denied them the fundamental rights and dignity they deserve. We recognize this historical fact while also understanding the complicated nature of human identity. We acknowledge the ways in which race has privileged some and disenfranchised others, while we know that race is not the sum of the human existence. We can work to confront our deeply troubled lived experiences with race while we also fight to affirm the dignity of those with other, marginalized identities.

We face this moment, committing to building a future free from systemic violence and racism. We must create the kind of learning and living spaces that allow us to talk with each other, and to find those bonds that empower us to see beyond our divisions. We will learn from the injustice that continues in this region, this country, and the world. And we must act.

George Floyd, we will remember your name.

New Hanover County Board Chair Julia Olson-Boseman issued the following statement on behalf of the county.

Our Nation has reached a pivotal moment in history today with the verdict in the Chauvin trial. It will be remembered for decades to come, and should be a constant reminder to us all. We must do more to ensure respect, justice, and equity throughout our Nation. We know that this work is not complete, and we are committed to seeing it through right here in New Hanover County. We ask for peace and unity as we continue advocating for the rights of justice and equality for all.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.