Pastors hope for “small steps to healing” after Chauvin verdict
Two Twin Cities pastors say they’re talking about what’s next and praying for peace
One-year-old Reynaldo enjoys his pacifier and plays serenely on the beige carpet, unaware of the tension in the room. His grandpa, Pastor Terrell Walter of Beacon of Hope Church, sits on a couch across from him, next to his sleeping dogs. He fixes his eyes not on the boy but on the television screen beyond. He says his heart is thumping.
He watches as Judge Peter Cahill reads the verdict finding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges against him in the 2020 death of George Floyd: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Walter, who is black, lets out a deep breath: “That’s good. That’s very good.”
In the hours after Cahill read the jury’s verdict inside the downtown courtroom, crowds gathered across Minneapolis—including the site where Floyd died last May after Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes—to weep, shout, and embrace. Walter’s immediate reaction was more tempered.
“OK, this is a victory, but it’s not a victory,” he tells me. “Someone is still dead, someone is going to prison for a long time, and two families are still really hurting. We have a long way to go.”
It took jurors 10 hours of deliberation over two days to reach their verdict Tuesday following a trial that began in late March. After protests that turned to riots that turned to fiery chaos following the 46-year-old Floyd’s death last year, police and National Guardsmen had locked down the city, especially after a police officer killed Daunte Wright, who was black, on April 11 in nearby Brooklyn Center.
Walter lives just blocks away from where Wright was shot. He planned to call his friends shortly after the verdict, both black and white, to ask what they plan to do to make things better in their community: “In other words, what difference will this verdict make to you personally?”
In the minutes after Judge Cahill read Chauvin’s verdict, Walter went from saying he felt numb, to talking excitedly about the need for changes in laws, to shedding tears. He switched to preaching mode, pointing his finger to make a point, saying all people—black and white, police and civilians—are sinners who need saving. “But even with the verdict, the change needs to start with us,” he said. “With me.”
He switches tracks: “You have to understand, history has been disappointing for the African American. I mean, we have hundreds of years we’re talking about.” He quickly adds he wishes the black community was more focused on preventing blacks from brutalizing each other, because more black people kill blacks than the police do. He mentioned a 7-year-old girl shot to death while in a McDonald’s drive-thru in Chicago on Sunday. Walter says he doesn’t see Black Lives Matter doing anything to solve black-on-black murders.
Still, Walter is hopeful. Behind him is a large framed quotation of Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.” That’s what Walter and his wife are praying for.
“I just hope Chauvin is convicted—not just talking judicially, but spiritually,” Walter’s wife, Marquita, said. “I hope something changes in his heart.”
Over in St. Paul, Pastor Sammy Watkins watches the verdict at Union Gospel Mission with his classroom of eight men—six black and two white—who are staying at the mission and participating in a Bible study. They sit in black chairs at white tables facing a big-screen TV.
One man had an iPad open from which they heard cheers erupt from people on Minneapolis streets. A few seconds later they heard on TV the guilty verdicts. There was no cheering among the men, though. Just stunned silence.
“Relief and disbelief,” Watkins told me later. “That’s what I felt. You could breathe again. This huge burden was off me. Our city and nation will stay intact.”
Watkins then asked each man his thoughts. James, a 77-year-old black man who’d served 27 years in prison and who says he saw a black man die from a police beating when he was 10 years old, says it made him feel like as an African American he still has value.
Another black man, Janiero, says it gave him hope. Ron, whose brother died at the hands of police 12 years ago, says he’ll have hope when he sees whether Chauvin gets a just sentencing.
Watkins says one of the two white men in the group seemed disconnected and wouldn’t talk about the verdict, and the other said if black people would just obey the police they wouldn’t get killed. Watkins had to intervene so arguing didn’t derail the conversation, but he told me he has noticed many white men at the mission don’t understand what Chauvin’s trial meant to African Americans.
With his men, Watkins prayed for Derek Chauvin and his family. “At the end of the day, there are no winners,” he said. “Only small steps to healing.”
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