Local residents applaud verdict
Last spring, retired Pastor Paul Johnson of Altoona turned on the news and saw the image of a white police officer with his knee on the neck of a Black man, who was lying in the street, and thought it was a still picture.
It took a while for Johnson to realize it was a video, and as the minutes elapsed, Johnson rose and began shouting “Stop doing that!”
Derek Chauvin didn’t stop until George Floyd was dead, and on Tuesday, a jury found the officer guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter — a fitting decision for a man “with a hand in his pocket, arrogant, looking around, with people saying ‘stop,’ but not listening,” even as his victim cried out for his mother, Johnson said.
“Today I saw justice,” said Johnson, who is Black. “I saw (Chauvin) reap what he sowed.”
The verdict demonstrated that a diverse jury of Chauvin’s peers could be trusted to do the right thing, and he’s glad of it, Johnson said.
Johnson loves America, and he hopes that things will “turn out for the best,” he said. But for that to happen, it’s critical that it be “all of us as one — not Black, not white, but human,” he said. That’s how his mother taught him to think, he said.
The Chauvin verdict was “long overdue,” according to Andrae Holsey, a senior at Penn State Altoona and the political outreach director for Progress for People of Color, a community nonprofit.
The verdict is the first “real ruling” that found criminal fault in a long list of encounters in which white officers victimized Black people, Holsey said, citing Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Jacob Blake, Antwon Rose, Romir Talley and Daunte Wright.
“With this ruling, we have an opportunity to move forward in solidarity,” Holsey said.
It ought to become a precedent, potentially giving courage to juries in similar cases to dispense similar justice, thus holding “police accountable for decades to come,” he said.
The ruling also spared the nation from “getting torn apart,” he said.
“I’m a proponent of nonviolence,” he said. But if Chauvin had been acquitted, a violent reaction was likely, he said.
Conversely, violence and animosity from the other side is not far beneath the surface, according to Holsey, citing the confrontation last summer between Bedford County residents and marchers from the Midwest who came through the county on the way to Washington, D.C., in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It resulted in a marcher wounded by gunfire and it’s still being sorted out by state police.
Holsey’s own group planned a march in Bedford County, but canceled it for safety reasons, after threats from the Ku Klux Klan, two local skinhead groups, a man who claimed to be associated with the Proud Boys, a militia group from Blair County and a militia group from Bedford County, Holsey said.
People write off white supremacists as being from far away and so disorganized as to be non-threatening, but that’s not true, Holsey said.
Chauvin was “a monster,” deserving of the justice dispensed Tuesday, said local physician Zane Gates, who is Black.
But that doesn’t mean that the good people in Chauvin’s family don’t deserve sympathy — just like the people in Floyd’s family, Gates said.
“I feel bad for everybody involved,” he said. “There’s nothing to celebrate.”
Those who betray the public trust need to be prosecuted, but those who justify that trust need to be celebrated, he said.
“Focus on hate, and it will eat you alive,” Gates said. “Focus on love, and it will bring you true redemption.”
Tuesday’s verdict surprised Andrea Taylor of Altoona, who is Black.
“So many times, I feel there’s been verifiable proof of what happened, and justice is still not served,” she said. The Chauvin ruling is “a step in the right direction,” she said.
She wonders, however, whether part of the jury’s motivation was a desire to avoid the potential violence that could have erupted upon acquittal, she said.
The verdict hardly “ends what’s going on in the country,” she said.
Still, “you need to look for reform where you find it,” she said.
There was “pressure on all sides” for the jury to convict, said Kenneth Huston, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP. “But that pressure was warranted,” Huston said.
The violence “would have been bad” had the jury acquitted, he said.
“I was prayerful it wouldn’t,” he said.
He hopes the verdict will help “root out the culture” that has led to so many fatal police encounters with Black and brown people, he said. That is a “bad, bad chapter” that needs to end, he said.
While police procedures were “followed to a point” with Floyd, Chauvin obviously “went beyond the pale” — and the jury returned “the right verdict,” said Donna Gority, a former Blair County commissioner.
“I was hoping for this,” she said. “But I’ve been surprised before.”
She doesn’t think the jury was simply responding to pressure for conviction, she said.
“I think the decision was made on the facts, as presented,” she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.