The verdict of guilty in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin last week happened 1,178 miles from Everett, but like many diverse communities around the country, it’s announcement evoked a range of emotions from the public and from local officials – from checking up on the validity of existing practices to feeling like it is currently an opportunity to work on changing issues that have existed for a long time in Everett.
Former Officer Chauvin on April 20 was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd in May 2020 after putting his knee of Floyd’s neck continuously for nine minutes and 31 seconds. Floyd passed out from the action, it was concluded, and later died.
In Everett, there have been a range of reactions, and naturally the Everett Police and the Everett Police Union were quick to comment on the verdict. Chief Steve Mazzie, who said Union President Jerome Bellard was in agreement, said the justice system did its job. As in previous articles with the Independent, he said the EPD has continued to address such national issues locally by making concerted recruiting efforts to diversify the Department to reflect the community, and to include more Everett residents on active duty.
“My reaction and comments on that trial would be that the justice system did its job in the State of Minnesota and held Chauvin accountable for his actions,” said the Chief. “Every community and its police department has its own identity to include history, leadership, culture, relationships and so on. We have worked hard in Everett over the years to recruit, train and retain the best possible officers who buy into that we are part of the community and realize that a heavy emphasis is placed on Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Excellence. We expect nothing less and we will constantly strive to improve the delivery of our policing services to include protecting the lives of all people we encounter while carrying out our duties.”
Chelsea Chief Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association, hasn’t always been totally in step with every police reform that has come down over the last year, but this week Kyes said he believed the jury got it right when it came to the murder convictions against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
“The jury in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin reached its verdict, finding him guilty of all three charges,” said the Chief in a statement. “As members of the Mass Major City Police Chiefs Association we strongly believe that not only was the defendant afforded due process as is required by our constitution and in conformance with our system of justice, but that the honorable and informed jury absolutely got it right and that justice was served. We hope that the family of George Floyd finds some solace in this historic verdict.”
The verdict was viewed not as justice in most of the community made up by people of color, but a sad reality of American life, and also a chance to change long-standing issues in Everett.
Bishop Robert Brown, chair of the City’s Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Equal Employment Commission, on behalf of the membership, said if change isn’t made locally and nationally, then there will be more George Floyd episodes.
“This is some justice,” said Brown. “It is justice in the form of accountability for one man for his heinous acts against another. It is not, however, accountability for a system of justice that has been out of balance throughout the entire history of our country. It is not accountability for a system of justice unfairly biased against people of color, against poor people, against those out of the mainstream of society who do not have the means required to ensure that they have the equal protection under the law that is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States to every citizen in this country. That is where the larger problem lies and what must continue to be addressed, when all the media frenzy has died down and people have moved on.
“Complacency is not an option,” he continued. “Complacency will result in more George Floyds, more Daunte Wrights, more Ahmaud Arberys, and Breonna Taylors, and Travon Martins, and Sandra Blands, and Amadou Diallos, and Emmet Tills, and on and on and on. These injustices eat away at our humanity. When any of our citizens live in fear, it impacts all of us.”
Councilor Gerly Adrien said the verdict was not a piece of justice, but only the starting point for major changes in Everett and the nation.
“Last week’s guilty verdict on Derek Chauvin’s murder charge was an important one for our community to begin to heal from the trauma of witnessing George Floyd’s murder happen right before our eyes by those that have sworn to protect and serve,” she said.
Rev. Myrlande Desrosiers, leader of the Everett Haitian Community Center, said – despite not having experienced that kind of abuse or racism personally – she was nervous as the verdict was read. She said she hadn’t watched a trial such as that since she was in law school years ago, but had watched the Chauvin trial front to back.
“When it came down as ‘guilty,’ it was a relief,” she said. “People felt relieved for the first time our community felt relieved that there was accountability. It’s not that a police officer was guilty and that made people happy. It was the atrocity that occurred before everyone’s eyes. Everyone saw it; the atrocity of a police officer so nonchalantly putting his knee on a grown man’s neck and hearing him cry for his mother.
“My heart was beating so fast, and I had to ask myself why,” she continued. “I didn’t know the man. I was in Everett and even at my age have not faced that kind of racism in my life, so I had to ask why my heart was beating so fast at the possibility of a ‘not guilty’ verdict?”
Desrosiers said she understands the reactions on both sides, as some had strong feelings that Chauvin should be not guilty, and some of those folks were her friends and some were elected officials.
She said, in being sympathetic to all viewpoints, she realized there is a huge divide in the nation and in Everett about race and culture and policing. She said in thinking about the verdict, while the police in Everett may not have committed any atrocity such as Chauvin, now is a rare open door to have hard conversations about the issues that Everett does have – and perhaps doesn’t want to deal with.
“I realized that there is a huge divide,” she said. “There are conversations we don’t want to talk about and things we don’t want to address…It’s the ultimate opportunity now to address these skeletons in the closet we must tackle on both sides of this.”
As an example, she said young people in the EHCC have said for several years they don’t like the Everett Police being in Everett High School. While most haven’t had any negative interactions, they have consistently told her that it intimidates them to have the police in the school and the lunchroom when they eat. The same is true for stationing police at the local pharmacies and businesses when school lets out and kids tend to frequent those stores.
“Young people have told us that for a very long time and we keep dismissing them and saying, ‘We’re good,’” she said. “We need to tackle these kinds of issues and try to find the right solution and people don’t get offended on either side.”
In Everett, though it is 1,178 miles from where the Chauvin verdict was read, the guilty verdict has signaled to the large communities of color in the City a chance to re-think some issues that have gone unaddressed on either side of the coin.
“We have a great opportunity to change things,” said Desrosiers. “We have a great opportunity to reckon things. We have a great opportunity to come together, but it must be done in a real way. We have a great opportunity right now to fix things if we really, really want to.”