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'We felt the weight of our ancestors': Colorado Black Caucus, others react to Chauvin conviction

More reaction from Gov. Polis, lawmakers, advocates
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Posted at 10:39 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 12:39:34-04

DENVER – Members of the Colorado Black Caucus said Tuesday they were still “shell shocked” that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted by a jury on three counts, including murder and manslaughter, in the killing of George Floyd.

The caucus members, who were instrumental in developing and passing policing and criminal justice reforms last year in the wake of Floyd’s death, were emotional as they gathered to address Tuesday’s verdict inside the state Capitol.

“How do we feel? We felt the weight of our ancestors,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who was one of the prime sponsors of last year’s primary reform bill, Senate Bill 217. “We felt a collective sigh of relief, and we felt a moment of solidarity in the work.”

Colorado Black Caucus responds to conviction of Derek Chauvin in death of George Floyd

Sen. James Coleman, Rep. Iman Jodeh, Rep. Leslie Herod, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Sen. Rhonda Fields and Rep. Tony Exum all addressed the verdict in the news conference, as well as the work that still lies ahead to put Black Americans and other people of color on equal footing with white Americans in society.

“It is under this expectation and tradition of racist law enforcement that countless, literally countless, Black people in America have been murdered without accountability,” said Coleman, who represents Denver. “This conviction does not make up for those lives but rather it’s a single, small step toward equality under the law. Three-hundred-and-thirty days later, we find ourselves mourning again with George Floyd’s family, with hope that the arc of the moral universe truly bends toward justice.”

Coleman talked about his son and having previously had “the talk” with him about conducting himself as a Black man around law enforcement and what they would talk about when he got home from the Capitol on Tuesday following the verdict.

“He can have hope different than I have ever had in my life, that in his lifetime, he can believe there is justice for him, as well, as a Black man,” Coleman said.

Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, described how she could not breathe while the jury was deliberating and in the moments as the verdict was read.

“The reason I couldn’t breathe is because I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again, and the outcome has never been a just verdict,” she said. “I’m still having difficulty breathing even though I have the verdict because we still need to see what the judge is going to say as it relates to sentencing.”

“…It’s hard for me to breathe right now because justice – for that family, that family can’t be made whole. A brother is gone. A father is gone. Someone that was contributing to that family is gone. You can’t remedy that,” Fields added. “…There’s many victims that we don’t have justice for. So, we have to continue to do the work … and we are going to be doing the work here under the state Capitol so we get to the point that we can breathe.”

Bacon, another Denver Democrat, described the verdict as an opportunity for the country and people across the world to believe in humanity again, and for Black Americans “not to be afraid.”

“My mother was a child of Jim Crow, and I remind people that it was only one generation ago where we had laws lifted. But up until this day, we have not been validated in who we are in a country that is ours, that runs through our veins,” Bacon said. “We have a lot of work to do. I could not be more proud to sit here with the people you see before you because they have demonstrated time and time again their understanding of the problems we face. And they have provided unrelenting will, force and hope to change and dismantle the systems that have been built to keep us in our place.”

Jodeh called the verdict “a small sigh of relief” but echoed the sentiment that more work needed to be done.

“A sea change is happening, and we are forcing the hand of this country to redefine equity, justice and civil rights. So, we have to ask ourselves, what do we need – not want; what do we need – those answers to those questions to be?” she said.

Herod described herself and the caucus members as still “shell shocked” following the verdict. She said she watched the reading of it with Coleman and Fields and they all had to doublecheck they had all heard the same thing.

“Because it was unbelievable. Like, someone was finally prosecuted for murdering someone in our community,” she said.

Herod described her well-accomplished brother still being pulled over in nice neighborhoods and never being ticketed, saying that he and other Black men are “not a threat.”

“Until you see us as people, as human beings who deserve to live, and little James [Coleman Jr., Coleman’s son], as a young Black boy who deserves to grow up, we won’t have justice in this country and the work will not be done,” she said.

Herod discussed the efforts by the caucus and by Democrats to make law last session, thanked the lawmakers who were there for the news conference for their work, and said the work needed to continue with some of this year’s bill’s, including House Bills 1250 and 1251, and Senate Bill 62.

“We stand here before you together because we will not be intimidated by threats. We will not be stopped in this work. We will continue because we must. These incidences should never happen again,” she said. “What we saw in the video of George Floyd was the most egregious, but it’s not the only type of action. It’s happening in our communities every day and it’s got to change.”

Reaction from other Colorado officials

The governor, congressional lawmakers and more also sent reactions to the verdict Tuesday. We’ve gathered some more reaction below:

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis

“Less than a year ago, the world watched in horror as George Floyd’s life was taken from him. In the days and weeks following his tragic murder, millions of Americans took to the streets to make their voices heard, saying enough is enough. Today, we see a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of justice, but we know we are nowhere near the end of this road. This verdict does not bring back George Floyd. True justice would mean having him here with us today. Let us acknowledge this victory and use this inflection point to bend the arc of social equality toward lasting justice so this doesn’t happen again. My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd, who have been forced to relive this tragedy far too many times, and to the families of countless other Black Americans who have been forced to say goodbye too soon.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser

“Today’s verdict in the George Floyd murder case represents our justice system working effectively with a jury considering the evidence and performing its duty. But it is not the end. We must continue each day to pursue justice for all and build trust between communities and law enforcement.

“While nothing can bring George Floyd back to his family, today’s verdict shows that we can hold bad actors accountable when they violate the law, move forward together as a nation, and deliver justice for all.

“Today is a somber day. This is not an end, but a beginning. The work must continue to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and to hold accountable those who break that trust. With today’s verdict, I am encouraged we can do just that.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

“This was the correct verdict. George Floyd received justice today, our community received justice today and the people received justice today. George Floyd’s death sparked a long overdue reckoning on race in our country. This trial, and this guilty verdict, may be just one step toward reconciliation, but it is a powerful moment for the cause of equal justice in our society. We have much work still to do, and that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge is still far from done, but this is certainly a victory for that mission.

“I again call on our faith and community leaders and groups to provide a safe space and outlet for our residents who want to share their thoughts and emotions following this trial, and thank those who have already committed to do so. People need be heard and have a way to process this event, so let’s have those frank conversations, no matter how difficult they may be, and promote our collective healing.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper

“Today’s verdict was clear. While we welcome this verdict, let’s remember that no sentence will ever bring George Floyd back to his family. No sentence can erase the trauma that his family has endured.

“Black Americans deserve a world in which their lives aren’t threatened by the very people sworn to protect them. We must reform a broken system that continues to allow these tragedies to happen.”

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver)

“What happened to George Floyd should never happen to anyone in this country ever again. Based on the evidence presented at trial, I believe the jury made the right decision in this case. While today’s verdict is a much-needed win in our battle for justice, there is still so much more work that needs to be done to end the violence that too many Black Americans have experienced at the hands of our police.

“Today’s decision should send a clear message to all those who swear to protect and serve our communities that no one in this county is above the law. My hope is that today’s verdict will be a turning point in our nation’s history and helps bring us together to enact the changes that our country so desperately needs.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Aurora)

“I join the Floyd family and their loved ones in celebrating this verdict, but I know that no verdict can bring back their precious brother, father, and friend. Accountability is no substitution for his life and real justice would be George Floyd being alive today.

"Our communities hurt for George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black men and women who’ve had their lives cut short as a result of a racist system.

“This pain is bigger than one trial in Minneapolis can heal. We must tackle the systemic racism that is embedded in our criminal justice system, our government, and every facet of our society head-on.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada)

“The murder of George Floyd was a terrible, brutal tragedy and should never have happened. George Floyd’s family and his community deserved justice in this case and I’m glad to see that today justice was served. We still have a lot of work to do in this country to address the inequality and injustice that exists. I’m glad the U.S. House has taken a first step in passing legislation to reform police practices and hold bad actors accountable.”

House Speaker Alec Garnett (D-Denver)

“Today George Floyd’s family, the Black community, and the nation as a whole were offered an important measure of closure as a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts of murdering George Floyd.

“This is the right verdict - the only viable outcome of such a tragic and heartless injustice. Colorado has led the way on police accountability and integrity, and we still have work to do to ensure justice for every community in our state.”

Civil Rights Attorney Mari Newman

"We are gratified to see that Derek Chauvin has been held criminally accountable for murdering George Floyd. Any other result would have been a stunning miscarriage of justice for a murder that the entire world witnessed on video.

"Unfortunately, Colorado prosecutors have not shown the same commitment to holding officers accountable for the murder of civilians. So far, we have not seen any charges against those who murdered Elijah McClain, an innocent young Black man who was walking home minding his own business.

"And, unlike the City of Minneapolis -- which acknowledged its own failures by firing the officers who killed Gorge Floyd and providing some remedy to Mr. Floyd’s family -- Aurora, Colorado continues to deny accountability for killing Elijah McClain, refuses to fire all of the officers who killed Elijah McClain and failed to intervene to stop the outrageous use of force against him, and has provided no remedy to Elijah’s family.

"Elijah McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, was gratified that the Floyd family has seen some modicum of accountability: “Nothing will bring George Floyd back, just like nothing will bring Elijah back. But I am happy for the family of George Floyd that the officers who killed him have been held accountable.”

Colorado Latino Forum

"George Floyd should be alive today. Today’s conviction of guilty on all counts - second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter - for his murderer, Derek Chauvin, former Minneapolis Police Officer, is only the precipice for justice. We commend the jurors for this verdict as this is only the precipice of true and whole justice for George Floyd’s life, his loved ones, survivors, and many countless lives lost at the hands of police officers nationwide.

"George Floyd was murdered cold-heartedly by Derek Chauvin. It was the weight of Derek Chauvin’s body on George Floyd’s neck for those nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds that took Floyd’s life, but it was also the weight of racist policing in our nation. We have not faced our history and corrected the errors of the past by reforming the systems of the present, especially our policing and justice systems. We live in a nation where our police and justice systems are engineered to uphold and perpetuate white supremacy. We have much work to do in dismantling racism within these systems."

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen

"I respect the judicial process and hope this verdict allows our community and nation to begin to heal.

"Since the horrific killing of George Floyd, the Denver Police Department has listened and learned from our community and continues working to build relationships where we demonstrate how we value those we serve.

"We remain committed to finding the best ways to ensure policing in Denver is safe and equitable for all. I believe we have made meaningful progress in the nearly 11 months since his death, but there is more work to be done. Working together as a community is essential to reaching those goals."

Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold and City Manager Chris Meschuk

“We’re coming together today to recognize the pain associated with the murder of George Floyd. This has been a painful process for all of America, and we understand the many emotions this verdict is likely to cause in our country and locally.

"Our organization has been on a multi-year journey of learning about racial equity and the importance of making changes in many aspects of local government to address systemic policies and practices that marginalize and harm community members of color.

"The city and the Boulder Police Department are dedicated to innovation and excellence in policing. We are proud of the extremely dedicated and skilled employees in our police department, and we’re grateful to call them our colleagues. We have a robust strategic police reform action plan, including placing the sanctity of human life at the center of every police-community member encounter. We’re also launching an engagement process to create a new Master Plan that will help define the future role of policing in Boulder. We welcome the community’s ideas as part of this process and are working collaboratively to ensure that voices of communities of color are elevated."

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann

“The murder of George Floyd affected our entire nation and his death galvanized many in Denver to take to the streets and demand changes to policing and an end to systemic injustices that are rooted in racism. Justice was served today, but there is still more work to do. My office recently released a study on race and justice and we are now working with the community and other stakeholders to ensure we are upholding our mission of seeking fair and equal justice for all.”