GENEVA — The killing of George Floyd last May may have been a national story in many communities, but in Geneva, the death triggered a grassroots effort demanding changes in city police conduct and accountability.
Measures enacted by City Council in the wake of months of demonstrations by the People’s Peaceful Protest, an outgrowth of the national Black Lives Matter movement, included a Police Review Board to provide greater oversight on how police operate in a city with a large Black and brown population.
And just months after City Council approved the review board: A guilty verdict in the case that spawned the movement. Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck. All of it captured on video.
We asked supporters of police reforms, law enforcement, as well as readers on Facebook, for their reaction to the verdict.
Among those responding were members of Geneva City Council.
Ward 5 Geneva City Councilor and activist Laura Salamendra said the “conviction of Derek Chauvin is the direct result of people power. The murder of George Floyd ignited popular uprisings across this country demanding an end to the war on Black America. From big cities to small towns, people got organized and they are fighting for change. But we know change won’t come with one conviction. Just last night, Columbus police shot and killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, whose family said she called the police for help. Daniel Prude’s family has not seen justice. Chanel Hines and her family have not seen justice. As we mourn the dead, we must keep on fighting for the living: fighting for housing justice and food access, fighting for healthcare and against war, fighting for an end, once and for all, to racist police terror.”
Ward 4 City Councilor Ken Camera, a proponent of police reform, said there are lessons to be learned from Floyd’s death at the hands of Chauvin.
“I am grateful for the quick and definitive verdict by the Minneapolis jury,” he said. “Murder, whether intentional or not, is the worst outcome for a police action. But that city’s policing system gave this officer a pass on at least 17 prior complaints against him over the course of his career. Some of these complaints were for using the same protocols that he used to murder George Floyd. So even though there has been a police review board in place in Minneapolis for years, they were referring very few complaints for discipline.
“That ultimately led to the death of George Floyd and the ruination of officer Chauvin’s life,” he continued. “The Geneva City Council and many community members have worked very hard through the last eight months to provide a Police Review Board of our own. But though we are forming a process for review of police conduct, we have to do more than just hold meetings. We have to conduct fair and impartial hearings and assist the GPD address small complaints and training issues before things get out of hand and people get hurt. And when we do, we will have more justice, fewer serious complaints, better police service and the opportunity to move forward together as a more unified community.”
Ward 3 City Councilor Jan Regan said the “killing of George Floyd sparked reaction and protest around the world — including of course here in the Finger Lakes. I think seeing that tape, hearing that trial — where even fellow police officers disavowed Chauvin — would have made any verdict other that this one difficult to bear. It felt good to hear this decision. Coincidentally, the verdict came in just as City Council was entering one of our final nights of interviewing candidates for the Police Review Board — the creation of which stemmed from this very same incident.”
Of area law enforcement leaders who were asked to comment, only Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts responded.
“I will continue to concentrate on our work in Wayne County as we continue to train and provide law enforcement services with diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure we do not have an incident that divides our communities,” he said.
Adam Fryer, a leader in city’s Black Lives Matter movement and now student studying for his master’s at the University at Buffalo, said he was far from sure a guilty verdict would be rendered.
“The verdict was unfortunately surprising,” he said. “Even for a murder the entire world watched together, the fact that it was a Black man put us on the edge of our seats. Cities boarded up their windows again in expectation of violence, expecting acquittal and outrage. That anxiety was justified because outrage would have been justified. But the past year has largely defied expectations, with mostly peaceful protests, a global pandemic, and the end, of the most excruciatingly long single term presidency in modern history.
“This verdict is accountability,” he continued. “It is a reason to celebrate, a reason to cry, a reason for joy, a reason to drive your car, to feel relief, and a reason for hope. This verdict is not a reason to stop. This is a precedent, the overdue validation of lived experiences and lives lost. The spurs to motivate a new generation of justice and systemic change. It is the spark of hesitancy that will follow every law enforcement officer reaching for their gun. This verdict is belief that one day we can all feel safe in our own skin. This verdict is not the mountain top, but it is the right path to get there.”
Here are some comments of others who responded to our requests by email on our Facebook page:
• Penny Hankins: “I am happy justice prevailed in this case, but I believe we have a long way to go. I know the Black Lives Matter era is not over because the police are still murdering Black and brown people at an alarming rate across this nation. Something must be done about this fact, before healing can truly take place in these communities. The militaristic mindset and behaviors of many police officers are unacceptable and extremely dangerous. This must be examined and drastic changes must occur in police departments.”
• The Geneva Women’s Assembly: “Convicting former police officer Derek Chauvin of murder was a necessary step toward greater police accountability in our country, but our hearts are still broken for George Floyd and his family. Systemic racism continues to plague our country — and that includes particularly our militarized police departments where the combination of racism and the all-too-frequent decision to resort to extreme force have deadly consequences. We saw this again yesterday when just 30 minutes before the verdict against Chauvin was delivered, police officers in Columbus, Ohio, killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Systemic racism must be met with systemic change. This is a national problem that is much larger than any one ‘bad apple.’ We hope that this verdict serves as an impetus for more frank discussions about the realities of policing and the need for systemic change, both nationally and here in Geneva.”
• From the Party for Socialism and Liberation: “This victory is a testament to the power of the people. 35 million people protested against the war on Black America for three months. The result: A cop was finally held accountable for murdering a Black man. It should not take 35 million people protesting for months on end to produce a verdict that everyone knows is true and right. And still police continue their unlawful attacks on Black and brown working class people across the country. The struggle continues.”