Home Madison Local Black leaders react to Chauvin verdict with relief, skepticism

Local Black leaders react to Chauvin verdict with relief, skepticism


Several leaders of Madison’s Black community expressed relief and surprise at the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd — but noted that it’s just one case, and there are still systemic issues to address.

“I don’t want to call it relief, but it’s so emotional, just talking about it,” said Progress Center for Black Women founder Sabrina Madison. “This is like a pebble in sort of this freaking huge bowl of boulders and rocks and things that need to be moved and abolished or removed, or done away with. We can get to a place where we, I and other black folks, we don’t have to be sitting around holding our breath because these things wouldn’t be happening to us anymore.”

Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson was audibly emotional in the moments following the verdict.

“You see these incidents happen time and time again, and you just don’t think it will go in your favor. This is historic. I don’t really have any words,” he said, his voice breaking. “I’m just sitting here in tears. A man lost his life, (and) finally there’s some form of justice. It’s still traumatizing at the same time, for his family, they lost him, but this has felt very, very relieving to just see that he’s guilty on all counts, you just rarely see it. I’m grateful that they made the right decision.”

Johnson watched the verdict alongside Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes, members of the Black Men’s Coalition of Dane County (BMCDC) and other leaders at the Boys and Girls Club’s new Capitol Square location.

“America’s judicial system has failed us so much that I definitely was surprised,” said BMCDC member Brian Britt. 

BMCDC president Corey Marionneaux said the prevalence of cell phone cameras has changed the game.

“I know for a fact, this has been going on for years and years and years and years and years and years, and now it’s being caught on camera and some justice has been served,” he said. “It’s not going to stop today. There’s going to be officers that take this a certain way and may respond negatively and just be more assholes. But then there’s officers that may say, ‘Hey, you know what, he shouldn’t do what he did and he got what he deserved.’”

Later Tuesday evening, about 60 people gathered outside the Madison Police Department headquarters, where Freedom Inc Black Domestic Violence Advocate Jessica Williams reiterated that work remains to be done.

“This victory is huge because the police don’t get held accountable, but it’s a small victory in the bigger scheme of what we want to do and the changes that we want to have in this world,” Williams said. “So let’s remember that while we’re celebrating, that we need to continue the fight, we need to continue to struggle in our black communities, we don’t get to read, we don’t get to stop because every day, every minute, we hear about some other violence and some other harm that’s come to our community … so we have to keep going we have to keep fighting and keep pushing.”

The American justice system has not always served all of her people well and the death of George Floyd is a shocking example of where we can fail each other,” Chief Barnes said in a written statement. “As an officer of the law, I believe that today justice has prevailed. We hear you; this moment matters. The Madison Police Department is prepared to stand in solidarity with our community as we grieve and process the events of May 25th, 2020. I am hopeful that this decision will help our communities heal and will create new opportunities to work and grow together.”

In a written statement, incoming Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said,” Accountability prevailed in Minnesota with George Floyd’s murderer receiving the appropriate conviction.  Going forward, my priority is to restore faith between our peace officers and citizens. We must not forget that peace officers serve the public, and that our conduct is not above reproach.  We are committed to strengthening our community relationships and increasing our trust with the diverse communities we serve.”

Chauvin was remanded into custody immediately after the verdict was read and will be sentenced in eight weeks. He faces 12.5 to 40 years in prison.