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SLC Black community leaders 'on edge' for Chauvin verdict

Posted at 10:37 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 00:44:59-04

People around the country, including in Utah, are now waiting for the verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd's death.

Some say they're hoping for justice, and others say they will protest no matter the verdict.

"A test for our country"

For the African American community, it's a chance for the justice system to "get it right," said Kamaal Ahmad, a coach with many roles in the community, from a job as an educator to serving on the Salt Lake City Racial Equity in Policing Commission.

"Something happened in broad daylight, on camera. We've all seen it," Ahmad said, referencing the video footage showing George Floyd's last moments, where former officer Chauvin is kneeling on Floyd as Floyd struggles to breath. "There were no excuses last summer. Last summer about 99 percent of Americans said, 'Guilty' when we saw what happened."

As the jury deliberates, he indicated that it's not just for the fate of Derek Chauvin.

"It's a test for our country," Ahmad said.

If the jury finds Chauvin guilty in Floyd's death, Ahmad said it'll verify what everyone sees in the video, and what they know to be true.

"I don't think it's time for celebrations or anything like that, but it's a time to say, 'Now we're where we need to be, as a country. Now we're getting where we need to be. We're all held accountable,'" he said.

If not, Ahmad said it'll show that we as a country haven't gotten that far, and he said he thinks the community will feel that way.

Anyone, no matter who they are, he said should be held accountable for their actions he said. And he added that if they work within the law, they should still abide by the law, period.

Ahmad explained how the African American community hopes for justice, but they don't expect it.

"In all honesty, I don't know if the community in general expects justice, because I'm not sure how often we've had that in these situations," Ahmad said.

Anyone who studies African American history knows this, he said. Ahmad referenced Rodney King as one example.

When asked what message he'd like to share with Utahns, Ahmad replied that he hopes people "do not hijack the moment."

He said when Floyd died, he felt people hijacked the moment and took away years and years of progress. Ahmad urged people to be an example, be leaders, and stay within the law.

"Just be a supporter of human cause," he said, "And do so in a peaceful way. And so in a just way."

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best"

Lex Scott, Founder of the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter, said she's been feeling on edge, not knowing if the jury will come back in a matter of hours, or days, or even weeks.

She said she thinks the trial has the eyes of the nation, because of the unrest and the uprising from last summer.

"I think after the uprising of 2020, it got the world's attention for a little minute, right? For a little minute," Scott said. "And it started a dialogue in this country where it makes it more acceptable to talk about police reform, across the nation."

Since the trial began, Scott explained that they've seen a huge influx of new members to Black Lives Matter Utah. Last week they grew by about 400-500 people, she explained, when their normal weekly growth is usually in the several dozen.

"During these times no matter how I feel, I have to be that leader and I have to be strong no matter what that verdict says," she said. "So I'm just mentally preparing myself for, what are we going to do when it comes."

Scott said she's telling people to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. She doesn't high hopes for the verdict, and even if the jury rules 'guilty,' Scott explained this doesn't mean the world is changed.

She said they can't go crazy or stop working if they get a guilty verdict."I think in the eyes of the world, a lot of people would like to see justice in that case, but I've never seen justice in my entire life," Scott said. "And I feel very scared for people who are new to the movement, who have not had to face so many cases as I have, and their hopes are all the way up-- and haven't mentally prepared themselves for what could happen."

Black Lives Matter Utah plans to hold a joint peaceful protest alongside Utah Against Police Brutality no matter the verdict.

Their plan is to protest the day-of the verdict if it's announced before 6 pm, and if it's after 6 pm then they'll protest the next day.

Scott stressed that Black Lives Matter does not incite violence or destroy property and has told its members to stay peaceful this week.

She said unrest in the past has been incorrectly blamed on Black Lives Matter Utah.

Scott said her message is that they still have a lot of work to do, and she doesn't want this trial to define their movement.

"It is one trial, it is one case, it is one cop. And we are not fighting individual cops here," Scott said. "We are fighting systemic racism, and we are trying to put checks and balances in place that hold every police officer accountable for their actions and provide transparency to their actions."