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Transcript: After a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, work remains for the families of victims of police violence.

The full episode transcript for After a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, work remains for the families of victims of police violence.


Into America

A Verdict

Trymaine Lee: It was 331 days ago that Derek Chauvin, now a former Minnesota police officer, put his knee on the neck of George Floyd for the longest nine minutes and 29 seconds any of us have ever seen. And George Floyd took his last breath on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, beneath Chauvin's knee.

His death was captured on cell phone video, multiple angles. But the one we saw filmed by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier is the one that rocked most people. Her bravery, her courage not to ever divert her lens, it sparked a summer of unrest and calls to abolish or at least defund the police all around the country.

Judge Peter Cahill: Members of the jury I understand you have a verdict. The State of Minnesota, plaintiff, versus Derek Michael Chauvin, defendant.

Lee: After a televised trial full of weeks of emotional testimony and around 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges he faced. Second-degree murdered, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

Cahill: Are these your verdicts, so say you one, so say you all?

Jury: Yes.

Cahill: Members of the jury, I find that the verdicts as read reflect the will of the jury and will be filed accordingly. All rise for the jury.

Philonise Floyd: Today you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother. It was a motion picture, the world seeing his life being extinguished. And I could do nothing but watch. Especially in the courtroom, over and over and over again, as my brother was murdered.

Lee: Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, spoke through tears after the verdict.

Floyd: Today, we are able to breathe again. (APPLAUSE)

Lee: This was history. An anomaly, really. It was the first time in Minnesota state history that a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a Black man. And it was the first time that America could legally call Derek Chauvin what many have long known and believed. He's a murderer.

Protesters: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). That's right.

Floyd: I'm gonna put up a fight every day, because I'm not just fighting for George anymore. I'm fighting for everybody around this world.

Protesters: Yeah. That's right.

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Today, the power and limitations of this verdict. (HORNS)

Protesters: George Floyd. What's his name? George Floyd. Say his name? George Floyd.

Lee: On Tuesday night, there was a collective exhale for many in the city of Minneapolis.

Shaquille Brewster: It's a real sense of relief right now. I mean, this is something that many people have told me since the days after George Floyd they just didn't expect.

Lee: Shaquille Brewster is a correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. He's been in Minneapolis for weeks covering the trial, but long before that he was on the ground in the days and weeks after George Floyd was killed, from the very beginning of this entire ordeal.

Brewster: They didn't think that they would get a murder conviction. They barely thought they would get charges in the first couple of days after his death. Many people, even through the trial, even after you saw the bystander after bystander, witness after witness come up and take the stand, even after all the video that was there, even after the officer after officer came and took the stand and said, "This was excessive force," they still said they wouldn't let themselves believe that this day would come. And when that verdict was read, you really saw shock. You saw real surprise. You saw a real sense of relief, because this is something that people just didn't think and wouldn't let themselves think they would ever achieve.

Lee: Are folks on the ground hopeful? Again, they were measured and, you know, waiting for the verdict, and now the verdict has been read, that mix of joy but also kind of wariness. But do you get the sense that there's a hope that at least in Minneapolis, things might be different moving forward?

Brewster: I don't know if there's a hope, but I think this verdict gave them some validation for their efforts. And actually that was a word I heard among protesters. This validated the fact that we have been out on the streets, calling for change. We talk about the defund the police movement, that was something that was very real in the city of Minneapolis.

The city council, a majority of the city council passed a resolution to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. This is likely something that is going to be on the ballot in Minneapolis in November. They shifted money, $8 million, from the police budget to other violence prevention programs.

Now, that's in the grand scheme of things, about 5% of the police budget. But they feel like they've been making progress, that they have been taking steps towards that overall vision in what they consider essentially ground zero of this new movement.

So I think there was vindication and validation from the verdict. I don't know yet if that is exact hope. I think they know they still have a lotta pushing to do, they have a lotta work that still needs to be done. But getting that win under your belt, I think that gives them some sense of momentum in their overall goal and what they plan to achieve.

Lee: In terms of justice and policing and accountability and broader reforms, let's talk about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. You know, are folks on the ground supporting that? Do you get the sense from your reporting that this moment won't just be a moment, but that it will usher in broader systemic reform?

Brewster: The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, among regular protesters and demonstrators, has never come up in any conversation that I've had. But pieces of it have come up. So people say yes, we need a ban on no-knock warrants. Yes, we need to be able to track deaths in the custody of police, or police-involved shootings.

Yes, there should be a bigger role in the federal government in terms of monitoring local police departments. You know, I come from the campaign trail. That's a kind of normal thing. We talked about it with the coronavirus bill, for example, where people didn't support necessarily Joe Biden's coronavirus bill, but they supported money for teachers and money for schools, and they supported the stimulus checks.

So I think you always have that disconnect with the language in Washington with what people have on the streets. I think in terms of, you know, this being a rallying cry for that specific piece of legislation, I'm not feeling that yet. But, you know, that can always change, especially if that legislation has some real momentum around it, and if there ends up being a sense that it can get through a 50-50 Senate in Washington.

Lee: You know, man, I wanna ask you just personally right, we're two Black journalists, and I would say that we're Black men first, right? Before we ever got into journalism and reporting, we are Black men in America. And I've covered Trayvon from the very beginning, and Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. And in some ways, I know that I was changed in the course of my reporting. And I wonder for you, you know, how have you been changed by this case?

Brewster: Until a jury says that it was murder, we can't say it's murder. And that was something I always struggled with, because we watched the video. That's what I would personally describe as murder. And to be able to get to the point where we can say what we see, I think that really connected those two ends for me.

I think in terms of just change in reporting, I go back to that initial account from the police, before we knew about a video, Minneapolis Police Department called it a medical incident. They didn't mention a knee on the neck. They didn't mention restraint for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

They just said that in an interaction with the suspect, they realized he was in medical distress, and he later died at the hospital. And I think that just reaffirmed how you need to wait before you make any judgment, and how it's important to really dig and seek all those facts. And I think that's something that really stuck with me, how the initial account was so different than what we ended up seeing on the video that, in this instance, came just hours later.

Lee: What's a tough conversation that you had during the course of your reporting that sticks with you? I know you've been in the community. You were there on the ground from the very beginning. Is there a conversation or someone that you talked to that you just can't shake?

Brewster: There was one guy, it was in the days after George Floyd's death, I'm in George Floyd Square, that intersection that still, to this day, is closed off because it's the area where George Floyd was killed, we can now say was murdered. And a man came up to me and said, you know, off camera, "How do you feel about this, brother?"

And I wanted to tell him how I felt about it, how, you know, the outrage that so many people saw, that you feel that as well. But because you know where conversations can go, you know that people are so willing to take a snippet, if there was something being recorded, and spin it and just dismiss your entire credibility, you hesitate to even connect with people on that level. And I think that was something that was really hard about this story. You're going around asking people how they feel about it, asking them for their emotions, asking them to be vulnerable with you, and you can't do the same on the other end.

Lee: Before I let you go, man, I've said this to you privately but I'll say it to you here, man, you've done an absolutely phenomenal, outstanding job. I think your voice resonated so well. Your reporting resonated. And I do wanna tell you this, as someone who's been around the block, as an OG in this game, (LAUGH) sometimes you gotta breathe. You gotta step away. I know it's tough to sometimes, you know, unpack, right, and take a breath.

Brewster: Right.

Lee: But as a Black man in America and as a Black journalist on the front lines, I hope you find time to just breathe. Have you been able to kinda separate yourself from this at all and take a breather?

Brewster: I have. I'll say, last weekend, for example, the fact that there was no court, no testimony on Friday, I was able to get a break away and just went to see some family, and went to surprise my mother and my dad.

Lee: There you go.

Brewster: And, you know, got that weekend with them where I wasn't thinking about the trial. So no, I agree, it's important to do that. I mean, we talk about just how hefty this testimony was, just how graphic that video was. Video that, fortunately, we didn't air.

But that as journalists, we have to study, and we have to sit there and look at. I think, you know, it's important. I completely agree it's important to get away from that, to step away from that and to kinda take that mental health break. Because you won't go very long if you don't do that.

Lee: And the weight only gets heavier, brother. I, again, want to thank you, man. You've done an outstanding job, and I know you're busy today, so thank you for making some time for us, man. I really appreciate it.

Brewster: Thank you, Trymaine. I appreciate that.

Lee: A little less than 1,000 miles from Minneapolis, I heard the news in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I'm on the ground doing some reporting around a long, long history of racialized violence. As I knew the verdict was gonna come, I think like much of America, much of Black America, I kinda held my breath.

But in this case, this jury, saw it as murder. Just as a guilty verdict was being handed down in the Chauvin case, an Ohio police officer shot a young girl, 16 years old, named Ma'Khia Bryant. Now, the circumstances are still cloudy at best. But whenever a child, a Black child is killed, it is tragic, you know?

When any child will be killed, but we simply don't see white people or white children being killed in this manner. Every city in every state across this country has been stained and touched by the criminalization of Black bodies and the violence that so often comes with it. Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family of George Floyd, talked about this just hours after the verdict came down.

Benjamin Crump: Let's lean into this moment on the journey to justice, a better America, a more just America. A more just America where Breonna Taylor gets an opportunity to sleep in peace at night without the police bustin' in her front door. A more just America where Ahmaud Arbery gets to run free and not be lynched for jogging while Black. Where Jacob Blake and Laquan McDonald, and all these other Black men, Terence Crutcher.

Lee: Terence Crutcher, he was shot and killed by a police officer here in Tulsa in September of 2016. The officer who killed him, a white woman named Betty Shelby, was charged with manslaughter, but a jury acquitted her in 2017. And just like the Floyd case, it was captured on video. And people not just here in Tulsa, but all across the country, believed what they saw was murder. Just hours after the verdict was read, I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Terence's twin sister.

Tiffany Crutcher: When I heard the guilty verdict read, I had all sorts of emotions goin' on. I mean, I couldn't help but think about Betty Shelby and wish that that was her, that was the verdict that was read in the case with the killing of my twin brother. But it was a moment of joy, knowing that this man wasn't gonna walk free.

It was a moment of relief I think for families across this country that's dealt with police violence and trauma. And so it was just a sigh of relief for me, because I'm like, I'm tired, I don't have to take it to the streets. We have so much goin' on here. And, you know, I embraced that small moment of hope and justice. But we have to really realize that that's all it is, is just a moment. It's just a small measure, but it's not justice. It's not really justice.

Lee: What is it then? I heard Keith Ellison, the prosecutor out of Minnesota, said you know, "This isn't justice, it's accountability." Would you describe it that same way?

Crutcher: I think that's exactly right. I would describe what happened today, that guilty verdict, that's just simply accountability. And this should be the case for so many other families that's endured this same thing. And so we got it in one case.

This is an isolated incident. Convictions for police officers are far, few, and in between. Indictments are far, few, and in between. I mean, just right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Betty Shelby was the first police officer indicted in the history of Tulsa.

Lee: The history in Tulsa has a pretty bad history, (LAUGH) to be the first.

Crutcher: Yeah, to be the first. And we know what happened 100 years ago, state-sanctioned violence, where Klansmen were deputized by the police department, and then nearly 100 years later, that same police department kills my twin brother, and no justice in either case.

And so he's right, it was just a small measure of accountability. We won't really see justice or get justice until we change the laws that allow police officers in this country to commit legal murder, those laws that allow police officers to simply say, "I feared for my life because I thought his cell phone was a gun." Or, "I thought he was reaching for something."

Lee: Bringing all of that, you know, to bear, and on your shoulders, and in your heart, and in your mind, and Terence Crutcher, your brother, how did that shape the way you watched George Floyd's death and the movement and then the trial? Did it shape the way you were viewing this, like, your lens? I mean, being so close to it, you experienced it in some way.

Crutcher: Absolutely just I could not watch a lot of the trial. It was just too emotional. It was too triggering. It made me relive what we went through, and I got really upset and angry, because it was the same playbook, where they tried to demonize and vilify George.

George wasn't on trial. They talked about his past. They talked about his drug use. Talked about all those things. And the same exact thing happened in my brother's trial, they didn't humanize my brother. And so it was definitely triggering.

And to hear the defense, you know, use the argument with Betty Shelby, she acted within reason. She even went on 60 Minutes and said, "I would rather be tried by 12 than to be carried out by six." She said that, "He made me do it. He wouldn't comply."

All of those things, same thing. I sent a message to George Floyd's family on day one, and tried to just give them some advice, advice to ekep a strong support system around them, and they did. Drink plenty of water, and to be cautiously optimistic.

Because we've seen this happen on video. We've seen it over and over again happen on video. And so yeah, it was, you know, it's been pretty emotional. I'm just thankful for our support system here in Tulsa. Everybody, they've reached out.

They've surrounded us with love. I'm a part of a group called the Sisters of the Movement. And we were all on a text thread just supporting each other, praying, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that we could just have a moment to breathe again.

And you know, to see the text thread and everyone crying and saying, "Thank you Jesus," it was our moment. But we realized that we have to get back on the ground, serving. Get back, boots on the ground, fighting for justice. Because we still have to fight.

Lee: More with Tiffany Crutcher after the break. Stick with us.

Lee: We're back with Tiffany Crutcher. Part of the fight you talked about before the break is pushing back on a wave of legislation in Oklahoma intended to protect police and restrict protesters. There's one bill that would make it illegal to post photos and videos of police officers under certain circumstances.

The bill's sponsors say it's to protect cop safety and private information, but critics argue it could be used to prosecute people who film police violence. And there's another bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature that would increase penalties against people who block public streets, which is a common tactic in protests, while at the same time giving immunity to motorists who hurt others if they are, quote, "Fleeing a riot." Tiffany says these bills aren't surprising in the place she calls home.

Crutcher: This is Oklahoma, this is Tulsa, I believe one of the racist states in the union. Just today we are the only city, Tulsa, Oklahoma, that removed the Black Lives Matter mural off the street on Greenwood, in the Black community, because people who back the blue didn't like it.

People who don't even come in this neighborhood didn't like it. And now Oklahoma, the policymakers, they have passed laws to silence our First Amendment rights, to silence and attack our right to assemble, our right to protest, because it was a back blow from the 2020 protests of George Floyd, and Terence Crutcher, and Jason Barre, and Eric Harris.

Man, we have a lotta work to do. And if we don't get it done with this administration, then I don't know if we'll ever get it done in my lifetime. But I know we have to keep fighting. I've been organizing around those laws, those anti-protest bills, for the last several weeks. And I know that we're gonna have to fight this legally. We're gonna have to go to the Supreme Court. And so I'm prepared to do that.

Lee: I do, I have this question, and it's a true, honest, genuine question. You know, what is justice? Is justice the process of holding someone to account? Is it, you know, indicting, arresting, seeing something wrong and going through the process? 'Cause I don't know if we've experienced it. Like, what is justice?

Crutcher: You know, I don't know if I've ever experienced it. You know, we say that there's a Constitution, where all men are created equally. That would really be justice, if we upheld the Constitution of the United States of America, but you and I both know, Trymaine, that that Constitution was never really designed to protect Black people anyway.

This was, I think, a way to prevent unrest. They felt like they had to render this verdict, and that the prosecutors had to do a good job, because I don't think that this country would've been able to tolerate Derek Chauvin walking free. And so when we have a culture where we're happy because we got a guilty verdict so no one will go and protest, that right there is a problem within itself, right?

Lee: So it sounds like in this moment, at least for one family, there is a bit of justice. Even though none of that will bring George Floyd back. So I'm sure those families obviously would take George back no matter what.

Crutcher: Yes.

Lee: But it sounds like you would caution folks to really weigh what this moment actually is and what it is not.

Crutcher: That's exactly right. And I believe that George Floyd's family, they realize and they understand it too. And I believe, like every family, they're not gonna stop. This is just a little bit of solace. This verdict brought the family just a little bit of solace for a moment.

But they've joined this fraternity. They've joined this sorority. And we're in it for the long haul. And so we've developed this bond across the country, and we realize that we're stronger together, and it's our lived experiences that's gonna actually change this system.

We're gonna have, the families are gonna have to get to Congress and force them to act. And we're gonna have to share our stories, story after story. And there's so many. Some of our cases are just the high profile cases, but we're speaking for those cases where people will never know their name. That's who I'm fighting for. And that's who we all have to fight for.

Lee: And I've talked to a lot of the relatives and family of people who have been killed by police, and many of them do talk about it like there's this club that nobody wants to be a part of, and clearly you don't want any more members, right? But do you think that we'll ever get to that place in America, being Black in this country, do you believe that we'll ever be truly free, that we'll ever be considered full citizens of this country? Do you believe we'll get there?

Crutcher: Man, you put me on the spot with that belief question, because I tend to really get people to just believe. I'm one of those mentors and people where you have to have belief, because if you don't believe that it will happen, it won't. But I'm getting weary. (LAUGH)

And one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is Galatians 6:9, "Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." And I try to stand on that scripture, but I'm getting weary. I think about Maya Angelou's quote where she says, "We may encounter defeats, but we must not be defeated."

I try to stand on that, but I'm getting defeated here. And so I don't know, I thought that George Floyd was the turning point. And then we had another shooting, and another shooting, and another. Just this past week, Daunte Wright. It's deflating.

And when you have to do it through grief and trauma, and in my family's case, trauma reverberates through my family's history, starting with my great grandmother, who was a survivor of the Tulsa Massacre and who had to flee in fear of her life.

And then my twin brother, you know, who died with his hands in the air, unarmed. And then now my mother to COVID-19, because of poor leadership. I mean, we have just been through so much. But I made a promise that I would not rest when Betty Shelby was acquitted.

And so I'm gonna honor that promise. I'm gonna fulfill Terence's prophecy. His last statement to me, the last words I heard him say is that, "God is gonna get the glory out of my life." And so I have to make sure that I work like hell to fulfill his prophecy.

And I believe that his name is affecting change in this city. We've activated or re-energized a culture of organizing and activism. And, you know, we're keeping our foot on their necks to see if we can get some measure of policy change and police accountability in this city.

I have to practice what I preach, and try to stand on that, and continue to fight. But I have a reason why. Terence's children, who he left behind, Terence's nine-year-old son, who is the spitting image of him. You know, they say Terence and I are twins, but no, Terence Jr., that's his twin. That's the reason why I keep going. I can't bring Terence back, but I can fight like hell to make sure that Terence Jr. doesn't have his dad's fate. So I have to believe.

Lee: Well, thank you so much. I mean, obviously you've been fighting in your brother's name, Terence Crutcher, and fighting on behalf of your community, but also I think there are a lot of communities who look to you and look to this community and the resolve and strength, 100 years this year of that massacre, but from those ashes people are rising. And that's the one thing that is inspiring, is that there are people who have been fighting. And we've been fighting the entire time. And so you walk in those footsteps, and so thank you very much.

Crutcher: Thank you so much, Trymaine. I appreciate you and all the work that you do to shine a spotlight on the injustices that Black people face in America.

Lee: Dr. Tiffany Crutcher is the co-founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation. On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a sweeping investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.

Merrick Garland: I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.

Lee: Derek Chauvin will be sentenced in June, and the three other former Minneapolis police officers who were there when Chauvin murdered George Floyd are also set to stand trial. Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. I'm Trymaine Lee, we'll be back next Thursday.