The impact of the verdict in former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial rippled across Maine on Tuesday, provoking reactions from the public, activists and state and local officials over an incident that inflamed the nation and sparked dozens of Black Lives Matter protests over the death George Floyd.

The former Minneapolis police officer, who is white, was found guilty Tuesday of killing Floyd, a Black man, last Memorial Day.

Reginald Parson, a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, admitted he was nervous as the nation awaited the verdict.

“You really don’t know how these jurors were interpreting everything given to them. Being a Black man living in Maine, where racial diversity is not as high, I was nervous about, ‘OK, if they came out in a different direction, what does that mean for me?,’ ” he said. “Do people think they can get away with this stuff? … Maybe people would feel more emboldened because, ‘Look, he did it or she did it and got away with it.’ ”

Parson said he was still processing the verdict early Tuesday evening, but there was a sense of relief.

“These issues do affect me personally in terms of how society sees me and me interacting with the general public,” he said. “I think it gives a glimmer of hope that justice can be for all of us and not just those in the majority.”

Parson said the law school’s task force last summer began following the racial justice movement that swept the nation in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“It was in the nation’s conscience that these issues were there, but now this has brought everything to the forefront,” said Parson, vice chair of Portland’s police citizen review subcommittee.

Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said the verdict provides some measure of relief, but also reminds how far Maine and the nation have to go. Talbot Ross is the first Black person in state history to serve in a leadership role in the Maine Legislature.

“It took a global movement to hold Derek Chauvin accountable for the murder of George Floyd – an atrocity that took place in broad daylight, in front of witnesses and filmed for the whole world to see,” Talbot Ross said in a statement Tuesday night. “While today’s verdict is a historic milestone in the struggle against racism and white supremacy in the United States, we cannot forget that George Floyd’s murder was not an isolated incident.

“For generations, Black Americans have been the targets of police brutality, and the conviction of Derek Chauvin alone isn’t going to change that. We still have a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets populations who are Black, Indigenous and people of color. We still have a system that gives law enforcement officers impunity even when they commit the most egregious crimes,” Talbot Ross said.

Schadrac Joseph, a second year law student at the University of Maine School of Law, had been following the trial on and off for the last few weeks.

“I think it was a just verdict from a lay person’s point of view,” said Joseph, who also serves on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. “To see an officer could place their knee on someone’s neck for 9 minutes or 9 min and 30 seconds and not be found guilty – I think everyone from a lay person’s viewpoint would say that’s an unreasonable use of force.”

The trial highlighted the issues the country faces when it comes to race, implicit bias and inequality, Joseph said. It also showed justice is possible when the process operates as it should.

“There was a huge spotlight on this case,” Joseph said. “From the judge to the jury to the defense and prosecution, everything had to be perfect. We may not see that in other cases around the country and that’s a little worrisome. There is still more work to be done.”

Emily West, who chairs Portland’s police citizen review subcommittee, got involved in the committee about five years ago because she wanted to combine her work in criminal justice with the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York with community involvement.

“I think they got it absolutely right,” said West. “In my opinion it’s just so far from anyone’s reasonable assessment of use of force.”

West, who said she was offering her own opinion and not speaking for the subcommittee, said Floyd’s case has prompted more interest and involvement in racial justice and police accountability issues.

“We never had people show up for public comment, really, prior to last spring after George Floyd’s death,” West said. “It’s raised awareness about, ‘What is going on in my city?’ and puts the spotlight on figuring all of that out and thinking about accountability.”

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali called for greater accountability in law enforcement.

“We cannot have justice without accountability,” Pious Ali, a native of the West African Republic of Ghana, said in a statement. “Today, with a guilty verdict we have moved the needle on accountability. We cannot forget that for 8 minutes and 46 seconds Derek Chauvin put his knee on the neck of our brother George Floyd. We cannot forget the Black Lives lost to police brutality. This is a time of reckoning; a reckoning with systems of white supremacy that put my community; that put Black lives at a greater risk for police violence.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder wrote “justice” above a copy of the New York Times article announcing the verdict on her Facebook page.

The ACLU of Maine called the verdict a step forward in the fight for police accountability.

“George Floyd and his family received some measure of justice today,” Alison Beyea, the chapter’s executive director, said in a statement. “But true justice is George Floyd alive, playing with his daughter, Gianna. True justice is George Floyd alive, taking walks with his fiancée, Courteney. … While today’s verdict is a step forward in the fight for police accountability and may help heal a grieving community, the systems that allowed a police officer to murder Mr. Floyd remain fully intact.

“Honoring the lives of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and countless other Black lives violently taken at the hands of police means renewing our conviction to create a world where police do not have the power to abuse and harass Black communities,” Beyea said.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement that the verdict is only the beginning of the widespread change needed in Maine and across the nation.

“As someone who swore an oath to uphold and enforce the law, I recognize that this murder was symbolic of a criminal justice system which far too often enables the killing of unarmed black men,” Frey said. “But today’s verdict is the outcome of just one case. … We have an obligation, especially those of us who work in law enforcement, to pursue a more just system of policing in Maine and across the country.”

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland’s Police Chief Frank Clark said the verdict is another step towards healing the country.

“We’re fortunate to have broad support from our community members, but I’ll never take that for granted,” Clark said in a statement Tuesday night. “Trust involves a three-legged stool of communication, relationships and transparency. We’ll be continuing to work together and partner with our community, all while forging a path forward, exploring alternative approaches and emphasizing dignity and respect.”

“Nothing will ever make the family and loved ones of George Floyd whole again,” said Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck. “While we can hope that the prosecution and conviction of Mr. Floyd’s murderer achieves accountability and a sense of justice being served, true justice will only take shape through our ongoing work discussing and implementing policy changes to address systemic racism in our community and throughout our country.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation also spoke up.

“George Floyd should be alive today,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said in a statement Tuesday evening. “My heart goes out to his loved ones, who have suffered unimaginable loss. This verdict offers small comfort but has demonstrated the overwhelming need for the Senate to pass the Justice in Policing Act now.”

Pingree is a co-sponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – legislation to create mandatory accountability standards for police and address systemic racism in law enforcement, which has passed in the House.

“Today’s verdict holds George Floyd’s killer accountable, but the work for justice is just beginning,” Sen. Angus King, an independent, tweeted. “Americans of all backgrounds must now come together to push for change, and Congress must address the inequalities that have obstructed equal justice under law for far too long.”

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said, “The jury did its work and the judicial system worked well. Today’s verdict demonstrates the importance of a strong and independent judiciary.”

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, expressed her sympathy to Floyd’s family in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

“The jurors did their job. My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd, and I hope this verdict brings them a measure of justice and comfort and allows us to heal and to become a more compassionate nation, with respect and dignity for all people,” Mills said.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who called the verdict obvious to anyone who watched Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck, was a member of a state task force formed four years ago to examine the use of deadly force by police in Maine.

The group called for wider access to mental health care for all Mainers, and more training in crisis intervention for police and dispatchers. He also said he didn’t think the former Minneapolis police officer is representative of most police.

“I hope there isn’t a big push to condemn and defund law enforcement,” Diamond said. “We all need them and I think we all realize the job they do is hard.”

Drew Gattine, chair of the Maine’s Democratic Party, said the verdict should serve as a wakeup call for the nation as it strives to achieve for justice for Black people.

“We are holding George Floyd’s loved ones in our hearts. … But the outcome of this trial alone will not create systemic justice,” Gattine said. “The racism that killed George Floyd remains. … George Floyd deserved to grow old. George Floyd’s life mattered. Our systems must reflect that, and we must work to make it so.”

In Maine, there have been 83 shootings by police officers in Maine since 2010, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Each shooting is reviewed by the AG’s Office, but none of the investigations has resulted in an officer being disciplined or charged.

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