‘Today is a small win’: McHenry County activists, officials react to guilty verdict in cop’s killing of George Floyd

Locals emphasize how former officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction is only a start in holding police accountable

McHenry County social justice activists were relieved by a Minnesota jury’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on counts of murder in the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who is Black and whose killing caught on widely circulated video sparked outrage and demonstrations across the U.S.

Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges were the result of Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death, which occurred when Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while trying to arrest the Minnesota resident.

Following the verdict announcement Tuesday, McHenry County activists emphasized that Chauvin’s conviction is only a start in holding law enforcement officers accountable for violent episodes that injure and kill civilians. They also noted the weight of the moment, saying that murder convictions for police in such cases are rare.

Between 2005 and 2019, the U.S. saw four officers convicted of a murder charge for an on-duty killing, according to a Bowling Green State University Police Integrity Research Group paper, and they received incarceration sentences averaging just more than 12 1/2 years.

“For the first time in my 53 years, I feel like Black lives finally matter. There is still a lot of work to be done, but this step is huge,” said Terri Powell Wiersma, a McHenry resident.

Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black, who also is the president of the Illinois Association of the Chiefs of Police, said he hopes the country can “slowly begin to heal.”

“This afternoon justice was served with a guilty verdict on all charges against Derek Chauvin for his involvement in the tragic death of George Floyd,” Black said in an emailed statement. “A bad police officer is no longer wearing a badge. As a profession, we must not tolerate hate, discriminatory practices or abuses of power. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police is committed to collaboratively working with our law makers and the citizens we serve to effectuate positive change and build trust within our communities. It is my sincere hope that we can slowly begin to heal as a nation.”

Local group Standing Up Against Racism - Woodstock has advocated for social justice for the Black and indigenous communities and other marginalized people. One member, Amanda Hall, shared a statement Tuesday on the group’s Facebook page through an illustration of a protester just as the verdict was being announced.

“George Floyd isn’t a ‘wake-up call,’” the illustration read. “The same alarm has been ringing since 1619. Y’all just keep hitting snooze.”

Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests, including several that took place in McHenry County. Residents chanted Floyd’s name through city streets, called for police reform, and shared their personal stories.

“Today is a small win in our systems of inequity and injustice,” the Standing Up Against Racism group said in a statement. “As community members, we must keep the feet to the fire and the torch burning, not letting up and continuing the fight.”

Crystal Lake resident Tony Bradburn attended last summer’s protests and has continued to work with other local activists toward creating a more equitable community.

After days of building tension, Bradburn said he felt relief Tuesday when the verdict was announced.

“As a Black community member here, I have been really on edge the last few days after the closing arguments,” he said. “I just feel like for me, as just one community member, I just feel like I can breathe and at least in this particular case that justice was served.”

Had jurors at Chauvin’s trial decided differently, “I think our country would have really fallen apart,” Bradburn said.

“I’m just thankful that we’re in this place today as opposed to me getting ready to plan another protest,” he said.

Bradburn’s brother and fellow Crystal Lake resident David Bradburn also noticed a sense of relief among his friends and family, but he said knows there’s still work to be done.

“We have police officers who play judge, jury and executioner, and that’s not at all their job,” David Bradburn said. “Their job is to enforce, which looks like at times taking people into custody so that they can be brought to trial, not executing them in street.”

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, shared similar sentiments, claiming in an official statement that the country has a “long way” to go in terms of increased accountability for police brutality.

“For Americans who watched for the 9 minutes and 29 seconds as George Floyd was murdered, this trial wasn’t so much a question of guilt as it was a test of the American justice system,” Casten said. “Today, our justice system prevailed, but in so many instances, it continues to fail Black and brown Americans.”

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.