Wilsonville community weighs in on Chauvin verdict
Like for many across the country, Wilsonville community members' feelings about Tuesday's verdict imposed upon former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee on George Floyd's neck for over nine minutes and killed him last May, vacillated from elation to bittersweet.
The jury found Chauvin guilty on three counts, including unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
While Wilsonville residents were content with the outcome, they said it didn't bring Floyd back, take away the hurt felt by Floyd's family and others who mourned his death or quell the racial injustice and police brutality that continues to take place in the United States.
"The pain and suffering that we as a people have gone through for so long, since 1619, and then to know in 2020 that such an atrocity could be committed by an officer of the police department, I was elated to get that news," said Mary-Elizabeth Harper, a Wilsonville resident and Black woman. "But it is only the beginning for what we need to do."
Despite the rarity of police officers being convicted of murder in the U.S., Aaron Woods, a Black man and Wilsonville resident, said the evidence from the video of the incident, along with testimony from medical professionals and the police chief, was overwhelming in this case.
"My immediate reaction was elation; he was convicted on all three counts because I believe it was a correct verdict," he said.
Wilsonville resident Garet Prior said the verdict reminded him of the two times he spent as a foreman in murder trials in Richmond, Virginia.
"My hand was shaking when I was passing the decision on to the judge knowing the weight of the decision," he said. "My heart broke for the people on the jury."
Both Harper and Prior commended the girl -- 17-year-old Darnella Frazier -- who took the video of the incident, which provided overwhelming proof that Chauvin's actions were out of line.
"The teenager who filmed it, she has created some of the most impactful media of the last 20 years," Prior said.
Harper hopes that Chauvin is issued a harsh sentence and that the other involved officers, who stood by while Chauvin suffocated Floyd and are currently awaiting trial, are convicted in court as well. More broadly, she wants Black and brown folks to simply be treated in the same way as white people.
"There's still so much racism on county commissioner boards, various bodies. The people are just not in tune. They don't care," she said. "It's a shame that Caucasians think brown, Black and Indigenous people should be disregarded, and that's what I see a lot of."
Locally, Prior said he hoped that the verdict would increase momentum toward more citizen oversight of Wilsonville police. A city Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee is nearing formation, but a police oversight committee has yet to be considered at the city level.
"We're hearing good words that (it's) a good idea from the city and the city manager, but we have yet to see concrete commitments to changing the structure in which data is produced, collected -- and then oversight into a city process," he said.
Woods thinks the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office needs to assess what it can do better to train officers and prevent a similar incident from happening locally.
"I believe that Clackamas County, which of course would include the Wilsonville police, they need to do a deep dive to see what it is they need to do within their ranks and their officers to help reduce the friction and potential friction within our community when making routine traffic stops, responding to an incident, etc.," he said.
More generally, Wilsonville resident and school board candidate Seiji Shiratori felt that the situation was more complicated than the opinions that all cops are bad or good, but that, clearly, more accountability and oversight was imperative.
"I liked what I saw from Lebron James. He said one word: 'accountability.' The verdict restores a little bit of faith in our institutions and systems writ large … there's obviously some work to do," Shiratori said.
In a statement, Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald described the verdict as "an important step forward. Humanity and accountability have prevailed."
"The critical work must continue to build our communities in a way that allows everyone their dignity, to feel safe and to have the opportunity to thrive in all aspects of community life. For each of us, today is a beginning," she added.
Gov. Kate Brown also issued a statement.
"As a nation, we grieve for the life of George Floyd. And we will honor his memory by continuing to do the hard work to increase police accountability in this country. As we have seen in the last year, that process is not easy and change will not come overnight," Brown wrote.
State Rep. Christine Drazan, leader of the House Republican Caucus and a Charbonneau representative, summed it up within minutes of the verdict. "Guilty. Justice served," she tweeted.
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