‘Signal Of Change’

Organizer Hopeful Verdicts Will Continue Reform

Local residents are pictured in June 2020 during one of several rallies held in Jamestown following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on murder and manslaughter charges. P-J file photos

For the Rev. Chloe Smith, Tuesday’s guilty verdicts in the death of George Floyd was justice served and a “signal of change for our country.”

Months earlier, Smith helped organize a series of rallies at Dow Park in Jamestown in the days and weeks following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis — caused by officer Derek Chauvin who was captured on video pressing his knee into the man’s neck for about nine minutes. The rallies, as seen in others across the nation last year, were meant to draw attention to the treatment of Black people by police and to call for better communication between the Black community and city officials.

Following just a day and a half of deliberation, Chauvin was found guilty on murder and manslaughter charges.

“I was hoping for this,” Smith told The Post-Journal a day after the verdicts were read in a Minneapolis courtroom. “I’m very pleased they found him guilty on all counts, and justice has been served. I know we prayed and grieved with his family and this won’t bring him back, but it’s a signal of change for our country.”

The local pastor noted how rare it is for police officers facing homicide charges to be convicted. However, she said the evidence made it clear Chauvin was responsible for killing Floyd, which sparked months of unrest, protests and eventually a wave of policing reform across the country.

The Rev. Chloe Smith is pictured during one of the rallies held at Dow Park in Jamestown.

“Hearing the eyewitnesses, in hearing the medical professionals and law enforcement professionals for my thought process, how could it be anything but guilty?” Smith said. “As we know it’s rare for that to happen. I was hopeful, but I was still anxious and tense and stressed awaiting the verdict.”

Chauvin, 45, could be sent to prison for decades when he is sentenced in about two months. He was convicted on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Following Floyd’s death May 25, 2020, the Jamestown Justice Coalition was organized. The group noted, among other goals, the need to have a more diverse police department; the need to foster better communication between police officers and the community; and establishing more open dialogue with city officials. Since then, Smith said there have been regular meetings with Mayor Eddie Sundquist; Police Chief Timothy Jackson; and Matthew Rhinehart, community resource officer.

“I think we’re at the beginning of facilitating better communication with the police department,” said Smith, noting that she was pleased to see the JPD announce the hiring of Akeem Frett, who comes from the U.S. Virgin Islands with almost 10 years of experience as an officer.

Pastor Leecroft Clarke of Healing Word Ministries Church of God in Jamestown also believes Tuesday’s verdicts mark a “step in the right direction.” He said it further sheds light on the interactions “between police and minorities, and allows them to come to the table.”

Clarke, like Smith, said he’s hopeful with what has transpired within the city police department — notably the hiring of Frett and establishing a community resource officer.

“I’m very optimistic about our future,” he said. “When I saw the chief (announce Frett’s hiring) it told me he’s listening. … The next big thing is obviously diversity training. In our last conversation, he was 100% behind it.”

Across the country, many expressed relief with the verdicts. President Joe Biden said Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism. But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”

Chautauqua Institution president Michael Hill said Floyd’s death should not be in vain. In a message to the Chautauqua Institution community, Hill said, “George Floyd and his tragic murder by a person hired to serve and protect have taught us much over the past months. Perhaps most importantly, they have made the simple, involuntary act of breathing a metaphor for privilege.

“Those who remain alive and free, empowered with that privilege of breathing, are called to come out of their political and COVID-enforced corners and, in community, rediscover our shared moral, ethical and human compass to inform the future we want in this country — a future that will influence and inform choices made the world over.

“While national, state and local leaders must play roles in this rediscovery process, we all have a social responsibility to do something different — not just read about, it, or talk about it, or leave it to women, or people of color, or people with disabilities, or the LGBTQIA+ community to be architects of the critical conversations that must take place in our world today. Every person with that privilege of breathing has a role to play.”


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