Government leaders and civil rights advocates in New Mexico say they are looking to the future with cautious optimism following the conviction Tuesday of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the high-profile death of George Floyd.
Floyd’s death almost a year ago sparked nationwide protests, including in New Mexico, after video emerged of Chauvin, a white officer, kneeling on the Black man’s neck for over nine minutes during an arrest.
State and local leaders weighed in on the precedent set by the jury’s verdict, finding Chauvin guilty of three counts.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued Tuesday the state will continue to work to ensure justice for people who “have been wronged by those in positions of power.”
“New Mexico has grieved alongside the rest of the nation and the world over the unconscionable killing of George Floyd as he begged for breath in the street last year,” Lujan Grisham said. She added the jury’s decision “does give us all hope that our system is capable of achieving some measure of accountability.”
Kyra Ochoa, director of the city of Santa Fe’s Community Health and Safety Department, issued a similar statement:
“Today’s verdict is an important affirmation that despite the experience of communities of color historically, our justice system is in fact capable of delivering justice,” she said.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber emphasized the importance of Chauvin’s trial nationwide and its impact on local communities.
“The verdict does send a message that no one is above the law — especially those who are entrusted with providing public safety to the community,” he said.
Webber also cited the Santa Fe Police Department’s recent reform efforts, stating in a news release the city has “some of the most progressive [policies] in the nation.”
Chief Andrew Padilla noted the department’s directives regarding use of force, less lethal options and bias profiling.
“Many of these directives are only now being adopted by communities across the country,” he said in a news release. “We hold our police officers to the highest levels of professionalism, and we have long-held policies that ensure the safety and security of those the police come into contact with.”
Local activists say there is still more work to be done.
New Mexico has ranked at or near the top in the nation in recent years when it comes to fatal police shootings.
Leon Howard, a legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said he reacted to the Chauvin verdict with mixed feelings. Real justice, he said, would mean preventing police brutality.
“I’m trying to process right now in grappling with kind of the tension between feeling relief around the verdict, but also knowing that police violence is still happening in our country,” he said.
Howard said the disproportionate numbers of Black and Native American people in New Mexico’s justice system, along with a high rate of police violence, highlight a need for continued reform.
For many who were pleased by the outcome of Chauvin’s criminal case, the verdict offered a limited sense of celebration.
Santa Fe activist Loveless Johnson III said he thought he would never see a white police officer in the U.S. convicted of killing a Black person.
While he was filled with joy over the conviction Tuesday, Johnson said, he also was thinking of Floyd’s death and the pain his family has endured.
Johnson said he also felt for Chauvin’s family and the difficulties they may endure.
Still, he said, there is reason for hope.
“I’m not celebrating someone going to jail. I’d rather have George Floyd be alive and have been justly treated at the moment of his confrontation,” Johnson said. “But I’m relieved that the hope of justice is still alive in America — a real justice.”