‘A long way to go’ — Reactions in, around Montclair to Chauvin verdict
Tuesday, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all charges in the death of George Floyd — second- and third-degree murder charges, as well as a second-degree manslaughter charge.
Floyd’s death under Chauvin’s knee was among the catalysts for a wave of activism in 2020 and beyond — including in Montclair. About 1,000 people joined a June “Black Lives Matter — Crack the Blue Wall” rally in Montclair's streets, seeking reforms to policing and encouraging civic participation; Montclair officers joined protesters in taking a knee at their own headquarters. It had been one of several marches, vigils and rallies in town that month, and throughout the summer.
The Montclair Education Association organized a talk seeking changes to better support students against racism — racism from each other, from staff or from structures in institutions such as schools, government and police. The MEA and the district’s restorative justice team took on the topic of talking with children about racism. Students marking Juneteenth asked Montclair schools to rethink the role of police in schools, and provide more mental health support for students affected by systemic racism.
The asks from local activists span a range — from those seeking more involvement of non-police personnel in emergency calls to those who’d pull armed officers entirely out of many of the situations they handle now. Montclair Beyond Policing, formed after Floyd's death, would shift police out of Montclair schools and have traffic management handled without them. It would like to see a 911-like emergency line that sends unarmed mental-health workers and medics trained in crisis intervention rushing to help — instead of police.
Students and parents participating in summer and fall protests said they were demanding accountability for students of color, and protested the district’s removal of a student equity advocate (a version of the position was later restored, with a revised job description and title). Kellia Sweatt, president of the National Independent Black Parent Association, in August spoke at an event by a group calling itself 100 Moms and Students of Color, describing multiple incidents of racial harassment.
Those account for just some of the activism and the conversations happening in Montclair. They’re complex, and ongoing.
Tuesday, local leaders, activists and others responded to the guilty verdict against Chauvin — often with relief, often with calls to continue the fight against systemic racism.
Montclair Beyond Policing: “It’s been an emotional day and week with the Derek Chauvin trial, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo murders, and multiple mass shootings,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Let’s take comfort and care in community tomorrow.”
The group invited community members to a gathering at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Corretta Scott King statue in Nishuane Park, April 21 at 8 p.m.
“Bring yourself, your thoughts, your family,” the group wrote. “All are welcome, but please be respectful. Megaphone will be prioritized for any Black and brown people in the crowd.”
Montclair NAACP: "While we are pleased that hustice has been served for George Floyd and his family, the fight is far from over," Montclair NAACP Albert Pelham said in a statement from the group. "While we are all aware of the struggle to reform the criminal justice [system] and the continued police violence against people of color and systemic racism that has plagued America for over 400 years, is not over. Change will not happen overnight, but we must be 100% committed to continue the fight. We must also focus on a wide range of issues facing the Montclair community."
Pelham continued: "As a local civil rights organization, we must be 100% committed to addressing local issues."
He said those include affordable housing and rent control; "education in this new normal;" health including COVID-19 vaccines, mental health and food disparities; police and community relationships; and economic development — including "getting more minorities the opportunity to participate in all the development going on in the township."
And Pelham said that includes political action as well. He noted that in 2022, all House of Representatives seats are open, and the New Jersey governor's set is up for election in 2021.
"We must have the same energy to get folks registered and voting," Pelham said. "2020 showed everyone that your vote counts."
Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller: “With Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdicts on all three counts, George Floyd and his family get a small measure of justice. While it could never fill the void that George Floyd’s death has left for his family and community, and certainly does not suddenly erase the very real injustices Black and brown Americans face, today’s verdict means that Derek Chauvin will be held accountable for the violence he perpetrated,” the mayor wrote on Facebook. “We have a long way to go in ensuring that justice is applied equitably and consistently when our Black and brown brothers and sisters fall victim to a broken system. Today is an important step on our long march.”
Montclair Councilman Peter Yacobellis: “Finally, there’s some accountability and an acknowledgment by the justice system that Black Lives Matter. But my ask of everyone is that we don’t move on," the councilman said. "Let’s not fall back into the comfort zone of avoiding difficult conversations and challenges caused by systemic and overt racism. Lean in. Stay engaged. Create change. Rest In Peace, Mr. Floyd.”
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.: “Justice has been served in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd. The guilty verdicts can’t undo this injustice, but it represents a change in our criminal justice system,” the county executive wrote in a statement distributed to the media. “It is time for us to heal, learn to respect our differences and grow stronger from them.”
Rep. Donald M. Payne: “I think the jury has spoken and it appears justice has been served. But it doesn’t make me feel excited. Instead, it makes me angry that another Black man had to die at the hands of the police,” Payne, who serves New Jersey’s 10th congressional district, wrote. “Why does this continue to happen in this country? Why is it that an African American man can die because he has loose cigarettes or a counterfeit $20 bill?
He continued: “If the laws in this country have been broken, then that person should be arrested, brought to court, and tried by a jury of his peers. But for so many African Americans, it feels like they face their judge, jury and executioner at the scene of the incident. This country needs to reach its greatness. But it won’t reach it until it works for everyone.”
Rep. Mikie Sherrill: “While no trial can bring George Floyd back to his family and loved ones, today’s verdict offered accountability and a step towards justice for his murder," the congresswoman and a Montclair resident said. “This means that one small hurdle has been cleared in our broader pursuit of systemic change and the effort to restore trust between police and the communities they serve. There was no ambiguity in this case. Derek Chauvin’s own law enforcement colleagues and superiors testified against him. Today, we move one step closer to fulfilling the pledge we make as a country to provide liberty and justice for all.”
County Commissioner Brendan Gill: "The callous and unnecessary murder of George Floyd will never be forgotten, and will serve as a moment in history in which a rekindled call for social justice reverberated across our nation, and the world," Gill, a Montclair resident, wrote. "The outrage that is still being felt by so many of us has not gone away, but it has been tempered by our criminal justice system’s demonstration of accountability. It is my hope that today’s verdict can bring a sense of closure to the family and friends of George Floyd, while serving as a turning point that drives our society to insist that all people are treated with dignity and respect."
He continued: "As a nation that believes in justice, we must continue to demand that our government institutions exhaust all measures to move past the legacy of unfair treatment towards people of color. Today’s verdict was a crucial step for our criminal justice system, and our nation, on the path towards living up to our ideals of liberty and justice for all."
Montclair Democrats: The Montclair County Democratic Committee said on Twitter, in a simple statement: “Derek Chauvin found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Justice is served.”
Gov. Phil Murphy: “George Floyd, like countless other Black Americans whose futures have been unjustly stolen from them, should be alive today,” the governor wrote in a statement. “While today's verdict provides some measure of justice and accountability for the Floyd family and millions of our fellow Americans, all of us must remember that systemic racism is still pervasive in American life. While we are glad that justice has prevailed in this case, George Floyd’s murder is a painful reminder that inequality has deep roots in American history, starting during slavery and continuing to the present day in areas such as wages, health care, housing, education, and treatment by law enforcement.”
He continued: “This has been a trying moment in our nation’s history, but we must be resolute in our fight for justice to ensure that the pain of yesterday, and the pain of today, does not become the pain of tomorrow.”
— Statements compiled by Louis C. Hochman