COLUMBUS, Ohio – Zach Usmani gripped his phone, shoulders hunched over the steering wheel as he sat in his parked car outside a gym in Columbus, Ohio. He was watching a video livestream when Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Wow, Usmani thought, as Chauvin was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the of death of George Floyd, who died while Chauvin had him handcuffed with a knee on his neck.
The 32-year-old said he felt relieved, but not satisfied.
“I hope people recognize this is not enough and this alone is not justice,” he said.
A half-hour later, news broke that Columbus police had shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl after responding to a 911 call at 4:35 p.m. EDT Tuesday about an attempted stabbing.
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The deep sighs of relief, drawn by the Black community, protesters, activists and allies after Chauvin’s guilty verdict were punctured by the news of another death of a Black person at the hands of police.
“Relief is just so tepid. It’s tepid because I know this does not protect the next person from getting shot, protect the next person from being brutalized,” Usmani said. “The police just can’t stop themselves from killing Black people even with all the attention on this.”
The shooting comes as many advocates – from community activists to members of Floyd’s family to high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump – around the country stress that progress is still needed in the areas of police reform and racial equity.
“Given the history of these kinds of cases, I was surprised,” Floyd’s brother, Terrence, told the USA TODAY Network on Tuesday in New York’s Times Square. “I know there’s still more work to be done.”
Body camera video released by Columbus police Tuesday shows an officer approaching a driveway with a group of young people standing around. In the video, it appears that the 16-year-old, identified as Ma’Khia Bryant, pushes or swings at a person who falls to the ground.
Bryant then appears to swing a knife at a girl who is on the hood of a car, and the officer fires his weapon what sounds like four times, striking the girl.
‘We have to keep going’
Ramon Obey II, an activist and president of JUST (Justice, Unity & Social Transformation), a community organization in Columbus that hosts a biweekly food program, watched the Chauvin verdict on TV with his mom, sister and younger brother.
“We were very unsure on how this would turn out,” he said, recalling how his mom remembered being glued to the TV almost 30 years ago after the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted.
The 23-year-old described the feeling of hearing a guilty verdict to the butterflies in your stomach that drop while riding a rollercoaster.
“I’m flabbergasted,” he said. “It’s honestly like the words can’t come to me quick enough, because even though I’ve seen a man murdered on video, I didn’t know if America had seen a man murdered on video.”
But his excitement was short-lived.
After hearing news of the police shooting in Columbus on Tuesday, Obey said he was unsurprised.
“The system of policing is broken, and until change takes place we are doomed to keep repeating these tragedies,” he said.
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The feeling that more work still needs to be done is a sentiment echoed by activists around the nation, who view the guilty verdict a milestone not a finish line.
“This means everything, this is long, long overdue,” said Selena McKnight, 46, of Minneapolis, who after hearing the verdict threw her arms around her 18-year-old daughter as a crowd cheered. “But this doesn’t stop here. We have to keep going.”
For Traci Fant, the organizer of Freedom Fighters Upstate SC in Greenville, South Carolina, the verdict was a result of “everything that we fought for last year,” but she still views it as a launching pad for something more.
“Hopefully, this right here is really going to start some true reforms, some true conversations about police brutality, and police justice and show them that Black lives truly matter,” Fant said.
Crump, the attorney for George Floyd’s family, said he hopes the verdict will spark more justice in the future.
“My hope is that this case sets a precedent that we will have when we say, ‘For liberty and justice for all,’ that that will mean everybody in America. Black Americans. Native Americans. Hispanic Americans. Asian Americans. It will mean all of us,” Crump said.
The question of justice is subjective, Heather Johnson said.
Johnson, a Columbus activist and mother of six, said that no guilty verdict will ever justify what happened to Floyd or the shooting death of the girl on Tuesday.
“How do you justify murdering a (16-year-old)? How do justify that? That is a child,” the 32-year-old said. “There is a never a reason to justify Columbus police officers murdering our children.”
Despite the whiplash of watching the jury hand down Chauvin’s guilty verdict minutes after a Columbus officer shot and killed another Black person, activists including Usmani, Obey and Johnson said the future is worth fighting for.
“If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t still be out here,” Johnson said. “The reason why I continue to press on and continue to try and be in this fight with my brothers and sisters … I’m in this fight and this struggle because I don’t want my six kids to be in this fight and struggle.”
Contributing: Marco della Cava and Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY; Chris Maag, The Bergen Record in New Jersey; Angelia L. Davis, Greenville (South Carolina) News; staff of the USA TODAY Network.
Follow reporter Céilí Doyle on Twitter: @cadoyle_18
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