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Louisville Protesters Find Moment Of Relief In Chauvin Verdict

Bruce Sweeney Jr. shouts for joy following the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021.
Bruce Sweeney Jr. shouts for joy following the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021.

Radio chatter emanated from the cellphones of the small groups of people around Jefferson Square Park in the minutes before the verdict came down in the Derek Chauvin trial.

Journalists hovered, fiddling with cameras and talking quietly, edging close to the few people who chose to stand at the epicenter of Louisville’s racial justice protests to hear the verdict.

Then the news came down. The jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd, a man whose name was chanted at last year’s protests second only to Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville in March of last year. 

In that shared grief, Louisville and Minneapolis found common cause in the pursuit of racial justice. And on Tuesday, people at the square shared a brief sense of relief.

As the new broke, a few cheered, others shouted “guilty,” and drivers passed by the square honking their horns. Upon hearing the verdict, Gigi Love sat with one fist in the air as she cheered near the spot where Breonna Taylor's memorial once stood in the park.

“Justice. We finally got justice,” Love said adding quickly, “Breonna Taylor hasn’t gotten justice. Trayvon Martin didn’t get justice. And on and on and on and on. They didn’t get justice. Now George Floyd got justice, and he deserved to get justice.”

Bruce Sweeney Jr. stood on a railing at the Hall of Justice. Shouting with joy, he said he couldn't contain his excitement and compared the guilty verdict to a holiday.

“There’s good cops and there’s bad cops, like there’s good people and bad people. If we all just try to love each other and try to listen to each other, we’ll all be blessed. I promise you. That’s what we’re missing – some love.” Sweeney Jr. said. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement acknowledging the deaths of both Taylor and Floyd as a catalyst for an overdue reckoning with race in America.  

“I hope today’s just verdict brings some measure of accountability, and a sense of peace and hope to our country, especially to Black Americans here and across the country who have experienced generations of trauma caused by an inequitable justice system,” Fischer said. 

Neal Robertson said his own read on history had not prepared him for the moment. 

“My whole life,” he said, "not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, over and over. But for once America got it right. Black or white, if you broke the law, you should be convicted.”

Robertson said he was proud of America in that moment, but noted the verdict for him was only a fleeting moment in the face of oppression that has endured since America’s founding, and will endure following the verdict. 

And when it comes to justice for Taylor, Robertson asked rhetorically to the crowd of journalists who gathered around him, “Will Kentucky do the right thing? Will Kentucky let us down?”

Then, news of another police shooting began to trickle out. Shortly before the verdict was announced, a Columbus police officer fatally shot a 15-year-old girl, according to the Columbus Dispatch. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.