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Black Americans React To Chauvin Verdict, Feel 'Hopeful,' 'Skeptical,' 'Relieved'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Almost 11 months after a Minneapolis police officer fatally pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck and held it there for more than nine minutes, that now former officer has been found guilty of murder.

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PETER CAHILL: (Reading) We the jury in the above entitled manner as to count one - unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony - find the defendant guilty.

CORNISH: Three counts of murder and manslaughter in all. But symbolically, the trial of Derek Chauvin came to stand for more than the culpability of one man. There was a visceral reaction to the death of George Floyd. Protests against police brutality and racism in all its forms broke out across the country and the world.

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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: Overnight, Minneapolis on fire, the protesters...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: Cities across the United States remain in a state of high tension tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're about to lose the front of the precinct if we don't move this crowd out of the front.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: George Floyd.

CORNISH: Now, Black Americans are processing the news of Chauvin's trial in the wake of more police killings. During the trial, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by police in a Minneapolis suburb. And the hour before the verdict was delivered, 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. We heard from a few Black Americans about their reaction to this week's verdict in the Chauvin trial and what they think it means.

DOMINIC WRIGHT: My name is Dominic Wright. I'm 24 years old. I live in New York City. In this moment, I am currently feeling elated. I believe accountability was happening. We are in the proper step of reform. But I still feel pretty cynical. I don't think what happened is justice. I just think it's accountability. Justice is if he was walking away alive. So I think we have a taste of what accountability feels like. We have a taste of people listening to us, so there's hope within that. I think the summer protests really showed regular people that we can step on the necks of justice. We - if we want justice, if we want accountability, if we want these cops to be held accountable, we have to continue to step on their necks.

JARON OWENS: Well, I'm Jaron Owens. I'm 31 years old, and I live in Columbia, S.C. In this moment, I'm feeling - I want to feel happy and joyful and elated, but I can't feel happy yet; I can only feel relieved. I want to think about this in five years and think about it as being a bellwether that changed how we see this and maybe the beginning of systemic change so we can not have to even deal with this problem, but I don't know that yet. And it's hard to summon the hope when you've seen what you've seen for as long as you have. I want to be optimistic, and I'll be optimistic as long as I can.

DANIELLE ATCHISON: My name is Danielle Atchison, and I live in South Carolina, and I'm 29. I'm feeling a mix of emotions, a mix of emotions. When the first guilty came through, I was crying already.

CORNISH: Danielle Atchison also said that this verdict doesn't change the state of play in the country, that even after last summer's protests, the issues that deeply affect Black Americans remain.

ATCHISON: Gentrification didn't stop. Redlining didn't stop. You know, the reckoning - the racial reckoning would encompass economics and, you know, housing, education. It would cover everything. It covered nothing. We got hashtags and no discounts.

NICOLE GREEN: My name is Nicole Green, and I live in Melbourne, Fla. How old am I? I'm almost 37 (laughter). I feel tired because it's just exhausting to keep, you know, seeing these things on the news and seeing these things continue to happen.

CORNISH: Nicole Green and several others also spoke about what needs to happen in order to achieve racial justice - changes to who holds power, to the criminal justice system, to policing. But they're also skeptical of how the federal government will tackle these issues.

GREEN: You can't find legislation to change people's opinions about each other. Joe Biden can't legislate that, right? The movement has to be from people working on that local level making the changes.

CORNISH: Green knows one day she'll have to sit down with her two children and have a conversation about interacting with the police. She says some of her family actually works in law enforcement, but that doesn't, for her, negate the real threat of police brutality.

GREEN: I will do everything I can to make sure my children don't have the same experiences that I had, that my husband has had, my brother has had. I'm not very hopeful, but I hope I can protect them from it.

CORNISH: We also asked each of them what it means to be Black in America right now. Here's what they had to say.

ATCHISON: Uncomfortable.

GREEN: Different.

WRIGHT: Skeptical.

OWENS: Hopeful for change - or just hopeful.

CORNISH: That's Danielle Atchison, Nicole Green, Dominic Wright and Jaron Owens. And this feature was produced by Brianna Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "JUDON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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