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DES MOINES — Ras Smith watched as the guilty verdict was read. His initial reaction, he said, was a sense of relief that justice had been served for George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis who was killed in police custody.
Smith’s relief turned to a sense of confusion, he said, when on the TV screen he saw live video of people celebrating in the streets of Minneapolis.
“We’re celebrating justice as if it’s this rare thing that we rarely get to taste,” said Smith, a Democratic state legislator and Black man from Waterloo. “We’re celebrating like we’re feeling vindicated, that our cries to America are finally being acknowledged. (It’s) kind of like, ‘I told you so. This is as bad as we’ve been telling you.’ And that’s hard for me. … Justice shouldn’t be this sweet moment that we get to have every once in a while.”
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning Floyd, 46, to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that touched off worldwide protests, re-examination of racism and policing in the United States.
Smith called the verdict a significant moment in the country’s history, but also said the journey to racial equity is far from completed.
“Holding one person accountable for his injustice, this crime, I think is fair and just. But I will say, when will the whole entire system be on trial? In order for all of us to get to a place where there’s equitable justice for our people, we have to bend that arc,” Smith said. “We’re looking for a lifetime of justice. So the work continues.”
Many other leaders in government and advocacy across Iowa also reacted to Tuesday’s verdict. Some of their reactions are included here:
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office did not respond to several requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Ross Wilburn, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, state legislator, and Black man from Ames: “We’re thankful for the jury’s decision, but I can’t help but think about how many cases never had the chance to be heard in court. One verdict doesn’t make up for the senseless, preventable violence that continues to plague communities across the country. Systemic racism and biased systems continue taking lives, and police killings continue to disproportionately target Black and Brown people in America. … It’s up to all of us to uplift the voices of this movement and defend Black lives in Iowa and across the country.”
Phyllis Thede, a Democratic state legislator and Black woman from Bettendorf: “This is the first phase of the justice process. In weeks we will hear of Derek Chauvin’s sentencing. I will wait to exhale once that process is completed. This day, April 20, is a day to remember and reflect. I hope this brings peace to his family and peace to the Minnesota community.”
Tom Miller, Iowa’s Democratic Attorney General: “ … For years, my staff and I have worked on policies to address the disparate impact on people of color in the criminal justice system, especially concerning sentencing reform. Legislation addressing chokeholds and officer misconduct passed in Iowa last year in the wake of Floyd’s murder. I am committed to work for more reforms.”
Iowa Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, who managed legislation that added support for law enforcement officers: “My reaction is the system worked. I don’t know that there’s any ramifications on the vast majority of our police officers and our law enforcement officers. The big, big majority are good law-abiding people. They obey the law; they do their jobs and they’re protecting the rest of us. I know there will be people that want to just blame all law enforcement for what any rogue police officer or deputy sheriff or anybody might do that advances their political agenda. But I don’t think that would be a justifiable conclusion in this case. I just see this as a rogue cop who did something he shouldn’t have done and the system worked and he was held accountable for it.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-West Des Moines: “For nearly a year, George Floyd’s memory and name have been the rallying cry of millions of Americans determined to see change in their communities, our laws, and the systems that still hold deep biases against Black men and women across this country. Today, our nation took an important step forward in that struggle — proving that accountability is possible for such unmistakable abuses of power like those exhibited by Derek Chauvin last summer.”
The Associated Press contributed