SCHENECTADY – Over 30 people stood arm-in-arm singing as a man on a keyboard and one on a drum played the beat to the Civil Rights protest and gospel song “We Shall Overcome” Tuesday evening outside the Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church in Schenectady.
“We are not afraid today,” the group sang, some holding up a fist as a Black Lives Matter flag hung on the doors of the church.
The group had come together after a jury found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd.
Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing him. The scene was caught on video seen around the world.
Anxiety and fears were high as the country waited to hear the jury’s verdict.
Tiombe Farley said she was on pins and needles waiting to hear the verdict.
“We’ve been here before and it hasn’t always worked out in our favor,” she said.
She said today’s verdict was bittersweet.
“I’m thankful in this moment,” she said. “I’m hopeful this will transition into more justice going forward.”
Farley’s brother Damonni Farley said he was cautiously optimistic of the outcome, but still had a bated breath waiting for the judgement to be read.
“There is a sigh of relief,” he said.
Derek Chauvin guilty verdict reaction: Video from a prayer vigil this evening to remember the life of George Floyd, held outside Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church in Schenectady. Those gathered sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ – Video by our Peter R. Barber
However, he said that moment of wariness over what the verdict may be shouldn’t have happened to begin with.
One sentiment remained strong throughout the evening–the job is not over.
“I think we need to take a closer look at police reform,” said Rev. Nicolle D. Harris, who is also the president of the Schenectady Branch of the NAACP.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said conversations need to happen between both the community and police department on what policing should look like.
Harris and Porterfield also said the country needs to heal now.
“I think this was a good start to the healing process,” Harris said.
But to continue the healing process and justice process, Harris said people need to be willing to listen to issues.
But the biggest feeling floating throughout the church: “People feel like we can breathe,” said Porterfield.
Black Lives Matter activist Lashawn Hawkins said she felt like her efforts this past year weren’t for nothing.
“Many other tragedies could of lead me to do what WE did this past summer but every one has a purpose this just so happens to be MINE,” she said in a text message. “GOD BLESS AMERICA!”
State Attorney General Letitia James also released an official statement following the verdict.
“Almost one year ago, the Floyd family and communities across this nation were torn apart by the murder of George Floyd,” she said. “We all watched in helpless desperation as a man was mercilessly killed by the knee of a police officer. Today, there is finally accountability for this atrocious crime that stole the life of a father, brother, son, and friend. I pray that the Floyd family finds some semblance of justice and peace for this horribly unjust act. While true justice will never be served as long as Black men and women are subjected to such inequality, today, we are one step closer to a fairer system.”
Citizen Action of New York Political Director Stanley Fritz said this verdict is not systematic cultural change to prevent further cases.
“Today’s verdict, for many, will be seen as justice; justice for George Floyd and his family, and the countless others who have experienced police violence,” Fritz said. “While justice looks different for all of us, the work to dismantle the system that led to Floyd’s death still continues. This verdict is not the systemic culture change needed to put an end to these constant attacks on our people. Across the state and country, police budgets are still bloated and policing, surveillance and the carceral system is constantly expanding in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities. By continuously investing in policing infrastructure, we are making a policy decision that reinforces the criminalization of BIPOC communities.”