By Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO – When the jury re-entered the Minnesota courtroom in the Derek Chauvin trial Tuesday, Sonia Lewis was at a local hair salon watching on her laptop, waiting on bated breath with many others across the country, for the verdict announcement. The former police officer was found guilty of murdering George Floyd on May 25, guilty of robbing the Black man of his life, despite opportunities for a different outcome.
Ms. Lewis, an educator, participates in a number of social justice groups including Liberation Collective for Black Sacramento, Black Justice Sacramento and Decarcerate Sacramento.
As others shouted out in victory, Ms. Lewis was quick to pump the brakes on the celebration. It’s a win, she says, but definitely not justice.
“Justice is not a guilty verdict,” she said.
“Justice is us living without the possibility of someone ever putting their knee on our neck. Justice is the ability of a 13-year-old who is doing whatever he’s doing in the middle of the night and he stops and he puts his hands up, that he be taken to his parents safely. Justice isn’t me sleeping in my bed and random bullets taking me in the middle of the night. That’s not justice. When we think about justice, it’s definitely not continuing to fund the very people who kill us.”
Accountability and justice aren’t one in the same, she says.
“(George Floyd) is dead. We can’t go to his children and be like, ‘OK we got, justice because Derek Chauvin is going to prison.’ They’re going to be like, ‘I want my Daddy’ and since you can’t do that, we need to find a way to change how you took his life,” Ms. Lewis said.
“To me this is when we go hard in the paint. This is when we continue to galvanise the spirits of people… Today was hope. This was a group of community members who came to a conclusion, to a decision, that offered a semblance of hope for the Black community, but not justice.”
Local activist Leia Schenk agrees.
“By definition, justice means fair, or morally right. How can we call this justice when a man lost his life? There is nothing ‘just’ about what happened to George Floyd,” said Ms. Schenk, who leads the social justice organization, EMPACT.
Ms. Schenk watched every day of the Chauvin trial on television and participated in an event after the verdict, near West Sacramento.
“I’m obviously happy that the verdict was a guilty verdict, however I’m not happy about the fact that George is still gone. I think about the many other men and women that have been killed by the hands of law-enforcement that haven’t received accountability. This is not justice. Justice would mean that George would still be here, this is accountability. This is what should happen in a court of law. The judicial system actually did their job this time and on this day the jury said Black lives do matter.”
Chauvin’s standing trial was referred to by many as a “reckoning for America.”
“This was a reckoning, America was on trial, the judicial system was on trial, and the moral fabric of this country was on trial,” Ms. Schenk said.
“Had this verdict not gone this way and this officer was found not guilty, the rage and anger would be brewing (around) this country and I believe very strongly this country would have erupted worse than we’ve ever seen. With us getting a guilty verdict, it is my hope that this will set the bar and set a new precedent for all of the other cases that haven’t made it to the courtroom yet and all the other killings that haven’t received accountability and for every killing that will come in the future.”
For Ms. Lewis, the Chauvin trial was eerily reminiscent of the 1992 trial in the case of Rodney King, a Black motorist who was savagely beaten by multiple Los Angeles police officers. Despite the event being captured on video by a bystander, similar to how Floyd’s last moments were caught on a cell phone camera, the White officers walked away, free. The streets erupted in rebellion, in what is now known in infamy as the L.A. Riots.
Much has changed since that time, but sadly, much remains the same.
“I was a college student when we shut down the Bay Bridge when Rodney King’s murderers were let go, then flip ahead almost 30 years later and I’m on a freeway shutting down freeway traffic when Stephon Clark was murdered.”
Change is brewing, though, she says. People can no longer make blanket statements such as “oh, I didn’t know,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “if you weren’t resisting…” Attitudes must change, she added.
“That is what my expectation is. From this day forward we are setting a new precedent, because we now know what hope looks like.”