My Mixed Feelings About the Derek Chauvin Verdict

As a Black male teenager, I still have to be on alert around the police.

by Enoch Naklen

On May 25 of last year, the world mourned the death of George Floyd at the hands of now ex-Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin. People around the world watched Chauvin brutally kneel on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds in a video recorded by a courageous teenage bystander named Darnella Frazier.

Explanation? Suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill. A life, taken away, for a counterfeit bill.

The crazy thing is I wasn’t even sure how the verdict would go as the trial progressed. How could I know? Our justice system has failed my Black community in favor of protecting the flawed police patrolling our streets time after time—from the killing of unarmed innocent children like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, to the chillingly similar chokehold murder of Eric Garner here in New York City. All of their killers got off with little to no punishment. Studies show that since 2005, there’s only about a 1 in 2,000 chance that a police killing will lead to a murder conviction.

Needless to say, worry once again intruded my soul as I awaited the verdict; preparing for the worst, while praying for the best.

Then it came.

All three charges. Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges. He was held accountable.

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While there was an initial sigh of relief, I am not sure how to feel. I am happy for George Floyd’s family, who finally got justice for their loved one. Happy for the protesters around the country and the world whose hard work and risks to their health during the pandemic paid off. And I am happy for myself; there is finally a glimmer of hope for actual change.

But as a 16-year-old African American boy, I still need to be on alert around those who are supposed to be keeping the streets safe for citizens like me. I’ve been blessed that I’ve never had negative encounters with the police. Still, I’ve been taught by my adult figures to be cautious around police officers to avoid confrontation. “Never argue.” “Don’t make any sudden moves.” “Make sure your wallet is a bright color.”

But I am still afraid that no matter what I do, it won’t prevent the biases and ill will of police from making me another name for which my community screams, “JUSTICE for…!”

And so, I am not satisfied. Within the past week, we’ve already suffered more accounts of police brutality on Black and brown lives; 13-year-old Adam Toledo, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, and 42-year-old Andrew Brown were killed by police officers. We are always tense that we might become the next victim.

George Floyd’s life and legacy lives on through this trial, and in the introduction of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, federal legislation designed to combat police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing.

But that is just the first step. In the future, I hope that every police officer is held accountable for their actions. That will help lead to the eventual end to police brutality in the United States. I will never forget the forced sacrifice George Floyd made. Hopefully this trial will help make communities safer for people like me.

Discussion Questions

  1. What effect does the verdict have on Enoch? What effect did it have on you?
  2. Enoch says that while he felt “an initial sigh of relief” after the verdict, he’s not sure how to feel. Why do you think he is conflicted?
  3. What impact does continued police brutality have on communities of color?

I am still afraid that no matter what I do, it won't prevent the biases and ill will of police from making me another name for which my community screams, 'JUSTICE for...!'
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