Faith leaders in Minnesota and across the United States expressed hope that their advocacy work for racial justice will gain momentum from the guilty verdict rendered against Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of killing George Floyd.
“It’s very encouraging for our overall work around racial justice to see the system, in this case, work,” said Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches. “It makes us believe even more in God.”
Stacey Smith, a member of the council’s board and presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Minnesota, suggested the April 20 murder conviction could energize the council’s recently launched “truth and reparations” initiative.
Envisioned as a 10-year campaign, the first-of-its kind initiative seeks to address social justice concerns of African Americans and Native Americans in the context of past violence and oppression that they experienced.
“My prayer is that this does really invigorate all of us to want to work on the things that really matter . . . breaking down the barriers of white supremacy, providing access to those who have been marginalized,” Smith said. “I’m happy about what has taken place and the verdict — but I know there’s tons of work that needs to be done. It’s just the beginning.”
Erich Rutten, the white pastor of St. Peter Claver, a Roman Catholic church in St. Paul with a predominantly Black congregation, said one of his parishioners texted him after the verdict to say, “Thank God — literally.”
“I feel relieved,” Rutten said. “It feels like this represents a shift towards holding police to a higher standard of accountability.”
Seth Martin, the Black pastor of Brook Community Church in Minneapolis, said the verdict would reinforce the solidarity of his multiracial congregation.
“When we are all together, protesting, doing spiritual things, and then we see real, tangible outcomes, it gives us more encouragement,” he said. “It definitely feels like we’re on the right track.”
Christopher Johnson, an assistant pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church who grew up with Floyd in Houston’s Cuney Homes public housing, hailed the verdict as a historic moment and a litmus test for the criminal justice system.
“What we just witnessed was the wheels of justice turning finally in the direction of minorities in this country,” said Johnson, who wore a red T-shirt that read, “I can’t breathe,” the words uttered by his friend while handcuffed and pinned at the neck under Chauvin’s knee.
“This is going to have global ramifications on both sides of the issue,” Johnson added. “For police officers, they now have to think twice about how they interact with minorities. For those who are being policed, we understand that this could possibly signify a change in law enforcement’s attitude toward Black and brown people in this country.”
William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and a prominent racial justice advocate, agreed with others that there is still work to be done.
“We must meet this public act of justice and accountability with federal legislation that will hold officers of the law accountable in every state,” Barber said. “And we must continue to work in every community to shift public investment from overpolicing poor, Black and brown communities to ensuring restorative justice and equity for all people.”
The verdict comes as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is roiled by racial tensions. Some Black pastors have left, and others are voicing dismay over pronouncements by the SBC’s six seminary presidents — all of them white — restricting how the subject of systemic racism can be taught at their schools.
One of the SBC’s most outspoken Black pastors, Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, welcomed the guilty verdict.
“God has spoken, let the church say, Amen,” McKissic tweeted. “Verdict indicates America has taken major step toward justice for all.
“We can see to it that no one else ever faces the awful killing experienced by George Floyd and countless others,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the SBC’s public policy arm.
“And, as we do so, we can weep. Even as we are glad for justice done, we should weep for injustices still at work and for a life that is still gone.”