When the Minnesota jury came back Tuesday in the George Floyd case, Raymond Moore was in a packed room in North Adams, surrounded by his wife, seven children, two cousins and neighbors.
Moore says a hush fell around the TV as the judge prepared to read the verdicts against Derek Chauvin. With the first finding of “guilty,” Moore felt a mix of elation and amazement.
And then a trace of hope for Black families everywhere.
“My heart fell into my stomach. I was ecstatic that that cop was held accountable,” he said.
Moore, a Black Lives Matter activist, says he has followed the case closely, since Floyd’s murder May 25 in Minneapolis. Floyd, 46, died after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning Floyd to the pavement by placing his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Moore still was elated, his children’s voices swirling about.
“It was amazing that they stuck up for George Floyd. Today’s his day,” Moore said. “Liberty spoke. We just want people to understand that Black lives matter ... and to hold police accountable. Justice has been served. I’m proud of the jurors who did their job.”
Along with his elation, Moore spoke, as did others Tuesday, to the longer reach for racial justice in policing.
“This is a small piece of the puzzle. Now, we have to get justice for everybody,” he said, a view widely shared in reactions to the verdict around Berkshire County.
“There are two systems here, one for the whites and one for the Blacks,” Moore said.
The three guilty verdicts against Chauvin on Tuesday signaled to Moore that the broken parts of the criminal justice system can, possibly, be remedied — a message akin to that voiced Tuesday by President Joe Biden and countless others, including local elected officials.
“It shows that the justice system in America can work — though we have to be patient and fix the broken parts of the justice system,” Moore said. “We all bleed red, and we’re all related one way or another.”
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said he has been thinking about the Floyd family — and says that, as a police executive, his duty was to consider and implement reforms well ahead of the verdict.
“They came back with what I think is a just verdict,” Wynn said. “I’m hopeful that people will see that justice was served in Minneapolis.”
Wynn is the only Massachusetts police chief serving on the nine-member Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. In that role, Wynn will shape policy on certifying police officers in Massachusetts.
Wynn said in a phone interview that he thinks the Chauvin guilty verdicts will help inform the work of the new commission. He stressed that the issue of reforming police practice is “complicated.”
Wynn believes that Massachusetts is ahead of many states in how it oversees police practices, including the use of force. With as many as 18,000 police agencies in the U.S., more should be done to spell out what’s allowable.
“We need national standards on the use of force and use-of-force reporting,” he said.
In Pittsfield, the department already has refined its use-of-force rules and has researched new methods that reduce “hands-on” restraints.
“As a police executive, we didn’t wait to see the verdict to make the changes that this death called for,” Wynn said.
Because the jury deliberated for only about 10 hours, Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP, said he knew the result would be favorable to the prosecution. Still, Powell had seen other police killings "many, many times before, where we thought justice was going to happen, and it didn't.”
“I have to admit, I'm glad I was by myself because tears came to my eyes. Tears of joy,” Powell said of the moment the verdicts came. “Someone said ‘These tears are for all those people that never got justice,'" he said.
Video footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd sparked protests around the U.S., with large demonstrations in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, Powell said.
Despite the video, some tried to blame Floyd’s death on drugs, or his heart, Powell said.
“Fifteen years ago, that would have worked,” he said. This time, though, the footage helped mobilize opposition to killings of Black people by police in the country.
“Everybody saw it for themselves, because of COVID. People were locked in their homes, and everybody saw, the world saw. This is not any different from any other killing,” Powell said.
He sees a pressing need for police reform at the federal level.
“We can't just sit back and say, ‘OK, we've made it.’ We've got to keep the pressure on. We've got to keep our voices out there. We've got to keep reminding people that brown and Black people are human beings, and they deserve the same rights in areas and available rights as everybody else,” he said.
In a statement Tuesday, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office said the guilty verdicts in Chauvin's trial go beyond this one case.
"This verdict is more than holding one person accountable," the statement said. "This verdict is a defining moment of our generation that galvanizes a collective movement toward building a fair justice system that ensures safety for all of the people it represents.
"Justice for George Floyd demands that we work to end the dehumanizing treatment of human beings in the justice system,” the DA's statement said. "This verdict is a start to eliminating the ingrained racism in the justice system that for too long has condoned and perpetrated state-sanctioned violence against Black people."
George Floyd & his life created a movement that continues to reform policing. George Floyd & his murder sparked deep rethinking of public safety. George Floyd & his death demonstrated for those who won’t acknowledge racism in institutions that we must confront now & unceasingly.— Adam Hinds (@adamghinds) April 20, 2021
Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, said in a statement that Chauvin had shown “reckless disregard for the law” and the jury made the right decision.
But, like others Tuesday, Healey cautioned that the verdict, while “a step forward,” is not a solution.
“Today, I send my love to George Floyd’s family, to the millions who are part of this movement, and to Black Americans who experienced collective trauma and grief so acutely this past year and this past week,” Healey said. “Accountability in this case doesn’t erase the fear and pain from centuries of injustices and institutional racism. It will take all of us to move forward and bring healing and the change we need."
In a tweet, state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said the movement launched after Floyd's death continues to bring reform to policing in the U.S.
"George Floyd & his murder sparked deep rethinking of public safety. George Floyd & his death demonstrated for those who won’t acknowledge racism in institutions that we must confront now & unceasingly," Hinds said. "This trial and the verdict only demonstrate the extent of the deep systemic change that we need."