Brooks Rauschenberger woke up yesterday and cried both in relief and sadness upon learning that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had been found guilty in the death of George Floyd.
Rauschenberger, who started a one-person “Black Lives Matter” demonstration on Saipan a few weeks after Floyd’s death in May last year that inspired many in the community to join in and eventually start their own peaceful BLM protests, said that true justice would have been Floyd alive and at home with his family today. Rauschenberger is Caucasian.
A jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, after a three-weeks trial. Chauvin was immediately led away in handcuffs to serve his sentence. Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, sparked a worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.
“I woke up this morning to the news that Derek Chauvin had been [found guilty]. …I lay in bed and cried with relief and sadness because, although the guilty party has been held accountable, it does not erase the memory of watching George Floyd slowly suffocate to death,” Rauschenberger said. “This is a testament to America’s flawed and deeply racist justice system that a murder caught on camera required national outrage and almost an entire year of pressure from activists and protesters for a second-degree murder charge. I can only hope that this verdict marks a turning point against police officers who feel emboldened to commit acts of violence against black, native, queer, disabled, and other marginalized and oppressed groups of people.”
In a statement shared with Saipan Tribune, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), who joined the peaceful BLM protests in San Jose last year, said the collective efforts of people did not go to waste. “Nothing will ever bring back George Floyd to his family but at least the Floyd family—and all Americans—can take comfort knowing that truth prevailed and justice has been rendered. Let us now hope this verdict sends a clear message that violence against African Americans and racial minorities in our country will no longer be tolerated,” he said.
Also in the protest last year was Richard Sikkel of Papago who, after finding out about the guilty verdict, carry with him a flame of hope. “I am hopeful this will be the beginning of sensible police reform and serious steps to right inequalities based on race, gender, etc.,” he said.
Ajani Burrell, a teacher at the Northern Marianas College, believes the guilty verdict will have significant implications. “One consequence is that I believe it will go some ways toward police departments and individual officers reconsidering their policies and actions. This is the first conviction of this weight that I can recall from all of the major police shooting cases over the years. I think it will further embolden prosecutors and juries to consider holding officers who commit these kinds of acts accountable,” he said.
“In the longer view, this is another step toward full justice for men and women of color—both in their interactions with police and with society at large. Many more steps are needed, and many have already happened, but the guilty verdict is an important step in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, this verdict may bolster hope in the millions of people who feel the criminal justice system, particularly policing, is unfair, and who have long feared that bad actors may never be truly held to account,” he added.
Rauschenberger, who started the BLM protests on the CNMI by standing at the San Jose and Atkins-Kroll intersection and holding up a banner for an entire week, said that yesterday’s guilty verdict means that it is now possible to expect such verdicts in cases of police brutality, but also pointed out that the prejudice and violence in policing are built into the system and will not end until the system itself has ended. “I believe in the dismantling and abolishment of the police and the complete reformation of America’s justice system. What that will ultimately look like, I can’t say, but it starts with defunding and demilitarizing police forces and reinvesting that money into communities who have been harmed,” said Rauschenberger.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was an integral part of this conviction. Communities around the country stood their ground against tear gas, rubber bullets, and other forms of aggression from the police, and people all over the world turned out to show solidarity with those who were putting their safety on the line to fight for justice not only for George Floyd, but for the hundreds of other Black people killed by state sanctioned violence and white supremacy in the U.S.,” Rauschenberger added.
Rauschenberger is quick to point out, however, that the guilty verdict only paves the way for accountability and not justice. “I would like to echo the sentiment of many Black Americans who have pointed out that this verdict represents accountability, but not justice. Justice would be George Floyd alive and at home with his family today. Justice would be the complete dismantling and reformation of America’s police forces and prisons.”
“The conviction of Derek Chauvin for a murder that we all saw him commit should have been something we could take for granted, not a moment where people across the country held their breath to see if the justice system would fail once again. …George Floyd’s life always mattered, and it’s a horrific fact that it needed to be proven in this way,” Rauschenberger added.