LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A small group of faith leaders gathered Tuesday (April 20) at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles to await the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial in the death of George Floyd. Nearly a year after protesters set up camp in the park to protest Floyd’s death, this gathering featured no protest signs, chants or demonstrations, only a sense of expectation as word came that the jury in Minneapolis had come to a decision.
When the guilty verdicts on three counts — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter— were announced, there was a sense of relief amid a mood of quiet surprise.
Mustafa Jabril, with Islah LA, a community center founded by Muslim Americans in South Los Angeles, expressed shock. He said he showed up at Grand Park ready to protest.
“I don’t even think we know how to react because of what we expected to happen, and how we expected to react. I’m numb,” said Jabril, 44. “We don’t know how to be happy … because we’ve never been in a position to be happy after a verdict.”
Jabril, who grew up in South Central LA, said he remembers the fires and looting in the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King verdict, when four police officers were acquitted after being videotaped beating King during a highway stop.
“I think people had gotten fed up at that point. I don’t think people were able to control their emotions, and today I want to say we expected to be the same way,” Jabril said.
Charles Johnson, senior pastor of Cochran Avenue Baptist Church in West Los Angeles, also had the King verdicts on his mind as he headed downtown.
“We’ve seen in times past, whether it be Rodney King … we see information presented to the jury and somehow we thought it was a slam-dunk and it never materialized,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that while the Chauvin verdict is a reason to celebrate, there’s still work to do.
“We’re going to rejoice and get excited today, but we’ve got work to do starting tomorrow,” he said. “We need to demand that police change their barbaric tactics. We need to demand that we have people that will go into the police academy and train our officers so when they see us on the street, they don’t see us as animals.”
Stacy Jenkins, affiliated with Experience Christian Ministries in Los Angeles, was also concerned with the future of policing. “This was a huge step in the right direction of showing how justice is served on both sides of the law,” she said, “not just for civilians but also for those who work in the law, because we look up to them.
“We need them to protect and to serve,” Jenkins said.