By Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer

Pastor Joy Johnson (Photo by Ray Johnson)

For centuries, African Americans have called on a higher power to get through times of strife and struggle. The continued impact of racism in America and demonstrations that Black lives don’t in fact matter to some have been the subject of many a prayer.

Local faith based leaders say while a historic guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial of the killing of George Floyd was an answered prayer, there is much action still ahead to heal this nation.

Local pastor Joy Johnson called Tuesday a “monumental day”  for Blacks in America, one that “calls for celebration and commemoration.”

“Finally, finally, finally, a group of 12 jurors have seen what Black mothers saw every time one of our Black and brown children had their lives taken at the hands of someone who was sworn to protect and serve. Finally, someone had the courage to tell the truth of what they clearly saw,” said Rev. Dr. Johnson.

Rev. Dr. Johnson is immediate past president of Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT). She also directs trauma healing and restoration programs for families and survivors of neighborhood violence through her Dr. Joy Johnson Ministries.

“Over these many years, our faith communities have prayed for justice in so many instances and today we feel that justice has begun. This is an answer to much prayer. Now, we pray that justice will continue and spill over like a living stream.”

Rev. Kevin Ross, senior minister and CEO of the Unity of Sacramento International Spiritual Center, said he was optimistic going into Tuesday’s announcement. Rev. Ross, a Sacramento ACT board member, was arrested in March 2019, during a peaceful protest in East Sacramento’s affluent Fab 40’s area over the district attorney’s decision not to file charges against two police officers who killed Stephon Clark locally a year prior.

“While I braced myself for the worst, I prayed for the best,” Rev. Ross shared.

The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was the proverbial pulling of a global sociological pressure release valve and for the first time in nearly a year, the world watched as the jury removed Chauvin’s knee off of George Floyd’s neck.  “For a moment we could all breathe again,” Rev. Ross said.

“The jury was able to render such a bold stand because virtually the whole world stood up and said in substance, ‘Not on my watch.’ However, it should not have to take the whole world to stand up to convict one bad cop.”

Echoing many other community leaders, Rev. Ross says the verdict was a victory, but isn’t justice. 

“This case created relief, but we must not rest until we radically change the system that gave a White officer such confidence that he would not be convicted, even if he kneeled on the neck of a Black man in broad daylight, while being filmed for 9 minutes and 29 seconds,” Rev. Ross said. 

The time that Chauvin placed his knee to Floyd’s neck was originally estimated at 8 minutes and 46 seconds. During the trial, that time was revealed to be even longer.

“What we have achieved is a new precedent in accountability and the jury has issued notice to bad actors in law enforcement that you can and will be held accountable for their heinous and hate-filled crimes against Black bodies,” Rev. Ross said.

Placing federal laws like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, he says, will allow the country to move beyond accountability to justice.  

“But, real talk, when the verdict was announced, I took a shout break and partied with the ancestors, because for a moment, our union became one percent more perfect,” Rev. Ross admitted. 

Dr. Tecoy Porter, who leads Genesis Baptist Church in the Meadowview area and the Sacramento Chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said he too is praying for systemic change moving forward.

“That’s what I’m all about, because I’ve been there,” Dr. Porter said. “I remember vividly standing in the living room with Sequita Thompson, Sequette Clark and Stevante Clark, talking to them, seeing their reaction after the DA told them that Stephon Clark committed ‘suicide by cop.’”

Genesis Church is a stone’s throw from Ms. Thompson’s backyard where her grandson Stephon was fatally shot. Dr. Porter recalls asking Stephon’s brother, Stevante, what he wanted to do in that moment. He provided the family with a forum to address the city and the nation, from his church.

“As for ministers, pastors and any community leaders in this space, when you’re dealing with family members who have been victimized in this manner and have lost loved ones, all you can do is preach your version of faith to the people and then pray that faith manifests itself in some form or fashion during the course of our lives,” Dr. Porter shared.

Dr. Porter is a native of Minnesota and helped plan George Floyd’s funeral services. He’s travelled back to his home state several times to pray for and with Floyd’s family. He calls the verdict a “major milestone” that lifts a heavy burden off them. He prays that others will see similar outcomes.

Rev. Dr. Johnson said she was disturbed by past court proceedings. 

“Since the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder to Trayvon Martin, I have felt that this nation was playing a horrible trick on what our own ears could hear and what our very eyes could see. As one after another unarmed Black men or women were shot dead by law enforcement only to have all charges dropped over and over again,” she said.

“America was telling us that the breath and life inside the body of a Black person was expendable and/or worthless. The more we yelled that the lives of our sons and daughters are not expendable, the more we heard how expendable they are. We have been lied to over

and over again.”

Rev. Dr. Johnson said her prayers for the future center on a “reckoning of a nation that was built on systems of false supremacy and is being sustained on all the lies that we’ve been told.”