Students, faculty and staff gathered around the small seating area and a TV outside of the student involvement office to watch the verdict people have been waiting months to hear.
Nearly 11 months after George Floyd was killed May 25, 2020, by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, he was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter April 20.
As the judge read the verdict convicting him of all charges brought against him, a sigh of relief spread across the room. This was the first step in justice, but after the initial feeling of relief, many spoke on their mixed feelings about the trial’s outcome.
Northwest’s Leadership Team was quick to support students before the announcement of the verdict by offering an open-mic conversation for students, faculty and staff to speak about what they were feeling. Almost 387 miles away from Minneapolis, Northwest students were no more detached from the severity of the Chauvin case than the leaders of large protests in a city blighted by injustice.
Justin Mallett, assistant vice president of Diversity and Inclusion, called the organized event a “listening session” with assistance from representatives from Wellness Services to help with racial trauma.
“We got word that the verdict was going to come through today, and so we immediately put out through our social media and email for people to be involved,” Justin Mallett said.
The conversation began with the topic of sentencing. Brittany Roberts, coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion, said she had mixed feelings on the verdict.
“I’m kind of in the middle,” Roberts said. “I feel like even as a Black person, or a woman of color, some people are like, ‘it’s not enough,’ and then some people are like, ‘oh, we’re good,’ so I feel like I have to pick a side as well. Was it enough?”
Dana Mallett and Bridget Clark, counselors from the University Wellness Center, said that the counselors are there to help with any way that people may be feeling on this.
“I think it is important to acknowledge that you can have conflicting feelings right now,” Dana Mallett said. “It can be really heavy having to see years and years of people being murdered and knowing that’s what is happening and not being able to do anything about it. Seeing people like you, that’s race-based trauma.”
Though this trial is over, Justin Mallett said there are going to be other ones soon, and that the mixed feelings that people were having after the relief is understandable.
“I can see where you straddle both sides,” Justin Mallett said. “Why we are celebrating came at the cost of a life of a black male.”
Cassandra Tavorn, TRIO director, said that the problem stems from the law enforcement system and that in order to change what is happening, people in power have to change.
“The behavior is still there,” Tavorn said. “Convicting one man of murdering another individual, the system that produced that individual is still there. The work that we have to do is to work to make sure that our law enforcement agencies know the culture has to change, and our society has to demand that change.”
Freshman Darren Ross said the problem that runs through his head when these situations happen is the lack of integration within law enforcement and the community.
“It’s always said that it’s the situation of wrong individuals in the wrong place,” Ross said. “It’s usually cops that have no idea about the area, people and culture, and then coming in and trying to control with fear because they don’t know the area.”
Justin Mallett added that Clarence Green, chief of University Police, and the rest of the Police Department hold events to create less of a gap with the community.
“It’s amazing when you think about it here, pre-pandemic, more students on this campus had more trust in our University Police Department than they do any other entity on campus. That’s because they put themselves out there.”
Tavorn then went on to give a call to action for the majority of the population of students at Northwest.
“As white students, you can use your privilege,” Tavorn said. “When you see something, say something. That’s the most powerful thing you can do. The more you all use your privilege to stand up, it’s going to make the other individuals stop and think the next time, ‘Oh, I can’t get away with it,’ so use your privilege.”
Justin Mallett later echoed Tavorn’s message and added on a message for students of color.
“I think that for our white students, it is to use your privilege and be vocal,” Mallett said. “I think for our people of color, we want you to show up and still be a part of things and understand that there is support from all levels across campus. We can’t let a small number of insensitive people speak for the entire group.”