SC’s Black leaders react to Chauvin murder verdict: Justice served, more work remains

Sarah Ellis, Maayan Schechter
·8 min read

The guilty verdict in the Minneapolis murder trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with killing George Floyd, sent shock waves rippling through South Carolina on Tuesday.

As cheers and chants of “Black lives matter” erupted outside the Minneapolis court house the moment the verdict was read shortly after 5 p.m., reactions from South Carolina leaders began pouring in online almost immediately.

“Thank you Lord. Guilty on all 3 counts will not bring George Floyd back but hopefully it will signal that police can no longer count on immunity when killing black people!” tweeted state. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, an outspoken African American leader in a state that only four years ago saw another white police officer held accountable for killing an unarmed Black man.

“It’s amazing, it’s an amazing day for the Floyd family, but it’s also an amazing day for everyone across America who truly believes in equal justice for all,” attorney and state Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, told The State. Bamberg watched the verdict on his phone after he left the State House.

Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges against him: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died beneath the knee of Chauvin, a white officer, ignited nationwide protests last summer. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, and Chauvin and three other officers were subsequently fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as bystanders watched helplessly, had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

“There is no question in my mind that the jury reached the right verdict,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, one of South Carolina’s highest-ranking Black politicians and the Senate’s only Black Republican, said in a statement posted to Twitter. “While this outcome should give us renewed confidence in the integrity of our justice system, we know there is more work to be done to ensure the bad apples do not define all officers — the vast majority of whom put on the uniform to serve each day with integrity and servant hearts.”

State Rep. J.A. Moore, D-Berkeley, tweeted Tuesday that he was “relieved” to see justice.

Moore’s sister, Myra Thompson, was one of ninek people killed in a racially motivated shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015.

Moore added, “the fact that we awaited the verdict truly unsure of what would happen signals just how little faith exists in the criminal justice system. We have to do better. Sending love to the family of George Floyd.”

After a summer of unrest in South Carolina cities in the months following Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s arrest, city and state leaders were quick to urge calmness ahead of the verdict this week.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department pleaded for peace as it prepared for public reactions to the verdict.

“RCSD asks the community to remain calm and respectful as we await the verdict today,” the department said on Twitter before the verdict was announced. “We support the right to peaceful assembly but will not tolerate criminal activity. Only by working together can we effectively address social injustices. Let us be a positive model for the World.”

On Monday, asked about possible demonstrations in light of the verdict to come, Gov. Henry McMaster emphasized that anyone has a right to protest, but he asked that it remain peaceful.

Shortly after the verdict was read, there was no sign of any demonstrations at the State House in downtown Columbia.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook issued a statement proclaiming, “Justice has been served in Minneapolis today. We agree with the criminal charges and findinds. Similar to what the prosecutor stated during closing arguments, the case was about a bad officer and not a bad profession.”

Leaders from last summer’s demonstrations in Columbia joined the chorus of relief after Tuesday’s verdict, but they tempered their excitement with calls for continued progress in justice and policing in America.

“The conviction of Derek Chauvin is an indication that the work of social justice activists is having a profound impact in our society,” said Jerome Bowers with the One Common Cause Community Justice Initiative in Columbia. “A conviction is major step in the right direction. This verdict renews the hope of many fighting for freedom, justice, and equality amongst the citizens of America.”

“I’m excited that he’s being convicted, but I also think that this isn’t justice. It’s just what deserves to happen — it’s accountability,” said Camryn Philson, an A.C. Flora High School student who organized the Million Teen March for youth in Columbia over the summer. “I still have the same passion because at the end of the day, this isn’t justice, like, stuff still needs to change.”

“This is a win for George Floyd; this isn’t a win for police brutality against Black people,” said Philson’s mother, T’Nae Parker, a longtime Columbia activist. “It hasn’t changed anything as far as organizing or do we feel safer in this country because of the conviction – the answer is no.”

Another longtime Columbia activist, Kevin Gray, said should Chauvin have been found not guilty he did not know if he could have stayed in the country anymore.

“You can cheer one verdict, and it’s a good verdict,” Gray said. “But if you want systemic change, end qualified immunity and hold police accountable like you would any other person.”

“When I saw ‘guilty’ on my screen, I felt like I could finally take a breath for just a moment,” said Jazmyne McCrae, cofounder of Empower SC activism group in Columbia. “But then I remembered the injustices here in SC: The killings of Joshua Ruffin, Jamal Sutherland, and Jason Cooper. And more. Today there was not justice — there was accountability. Justice would be removing the violent institutions that continue to systematically brutalize Black Americans. Justice would be knowing a Black boy or girl can safely walk in their neighborhood, and on any street across our state and country. Our work continues.”

When the guilty verdict came down, Columbia City Council was in the midst of its regular Tuesday meeting.

Mayor Steve Benjamin said, shortly after the verdict was read, “I think we just got a guilty verdict.” At-large Councilman Howard Duvall responded, “Good.” Benjamin asked Councilman Ed McDowell to offer a prayer, and the retired minister did just that. Following the prayer, a visibly emotional Benjamin wiped away tears.

In his prayer, McDowell asked for “peace that passes all understanding.”

“A lot of people are going through some very difficult times right now,” Benjamin said. “It is important we work hard to remain together.”

On Twitter, Benjamin, who is in his third and final term as Columbia’s mayor, shared a story about Chauvin’s conviction minutes after the verdict, with the hashtag #justice.

Prominent South Carolina voices continued to weigh in:

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Reporters Travis Bland, Joe Bustos, Laurryn Salem and Chris Trainor contributed to this story. This is a developing story. Check back for updates.