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Activist: Convictions In George Floyd's Death Could Represent 'A Huge Paradigm Shift'

People celebrate at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis after the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Tuesday.
Stephen Maturen
Getty Images
People celebrate at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis after the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Tuesday.

The murder conviction of Derek Chauvin could represent "a huge paradigm shift," if three other Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd's death are also convicted, says Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and activist in Minneapolis.

"Before yesterday's verdict, Minnesota officers had been sent the message that they could take a Black life and that there would not be any real accountability under the law, which makes it dangerous for Black people and other people of color," Armstrong said Wednesday in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.

Along with the charges against Kim Potter, a Brooklyn Center Police Department veteran who killed Daunte Wright, "that is a huge paradigm shift," if all of those officers "wind up being convicted," Armstrong said. "It would have been unimaginable just even a month ago that something like that was possible."

"There is a lot of excitement about the fact that what we would call a killer cop is finally convicted," she said.

Armstrongsaid "this did not happen because the system worked. This happened because the people put in the work. At every hand, we had to press for the officers to be fired, for them to be charged, for there to be more serious charges and things like that."

She's not sure that Chauvin's conviction will set a precedent for how police behave in the future.

"It remains to be seen as to how the system will respond when an officer shoots someone or has to make a split-second decision versus the circumstances of this case," Armstrong said.

In a separate Morning Edition interview, Chris Stewart, a lawyer for the Floyd family, said, "The system worked because the people put in work. And when something has a bright light shined upon it, it functions properly."

Bystander video of Floyd's murder on a Minneapolis street made all the difference in bringing attention to his death, Stewart said. "Normally I say justice by video is the only way that African Americans ever, you know, get prosecutions in this type of case. ..."

"If there were no videos, if there were no bystanders screaming, 'Get off him.' If no one was paying attention, we never would have heard of this case. ... The world wouldn't have made it go viral," Stewart said.

Stewart also represented the family of Walter Scott, a Black man whose fatal shooting in 2015 by a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., also was captured on video. Stewart says the pandemic helped raise the focus on Floyd's death.

Coverage of Scott's death "was huge," Stewart recalls. "It was worldwide for about a month. And then people moved on. You know, you got back to work. You got back to your family. You got back to life. But when George Floyd happened, we were all trapped in our homes. You couldn't move on. You know, there was no going to work. There was no leaving the house. And so people that normally wouldn't care about the death of some Black man in Minnesota cared."

Stewart says that proper policing and caring about how police treat people of color are not mutually exclusive.

"Because you want to hold an officer accountable does not mean you're against policing ..." he said. "We've been pushed that you have to choose a side, which is pure stupidity. You know, you can support good policing and you can support victims that don't look like you."

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Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.