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Students react to Chauvin verdict

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It has been nearly a year since thousands of protesters demanded justice on the streets of Merrick after the killing of George Floyd, a Minneapolis resident and a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer. It seemed like lightning in a bottle — a pandemic mixed with growing social activism — but a criminal conviction of the officer was far from guaranteed.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, well past the moment that Floyd had stopped breathing. After a weeks-long, publicly aired trial, Chauvin was found guilty on three charges — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — on April 20.

Chauvin will be sentenced in seven weeks.

Following the protests that shook the community, Merrick’s and Bellmore’s younger residents — who were largely sequestered because of the pandemic — wanted to have their voices heard. Sanford H. Calhoun High School seniors Eden Gould-Anderson and Joan Mesy started the Racial Equity Club to amplify their perspectives as Black students, and to speak out on an issue of social injustice.

The conviction of an officer in Floyd’s death felt like a milestone for the group, which formed because of the missed opportunity to discuss the protests. In June, when thousands marched, classes were being held virtually because of the pandemic.

The Racial Equity Club, which boasts roughly 50 members, met on April 23 to discuss the verdict.

“Honestly, I started to lose a lot of hope,” Mesy, who joined the group virtually, said. “It had been almost a year, and I started to think it wouldn’t go the way many of us wanted. . . Finally, an officer was held accountable — that’s what we needed.”

“Now, it feels like we’re doing this for a reason,” Mesy added. “All those protests were for a reason.”

“I feel like this is a very important day in history,” Gould-Anderson said. “It’s one of the first times a white law enforcement officer was held accountable for violence against someone of a minority race.”

“It shows that we are at least becoming cognizant of racial backgrounds in America,” she added.

Other students emphasized the significance that the entire event was recorded by bystanders.

“The whole world witnessed a murder,” said student Nick Mascary. “If that video wasn’t there, what would have happened?”

“It really showed how important the media is in checking police brutality,” said Anthony Toumazatos, “especially when [the incident] is recorded. How many other cases have there been where it should have been recorded?”

The day did not completely feel like a victory, however — three days prior on April 20, teenager Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by a police officer in Ohio. The story quickly garnered national attention.

“Another person was killed — we can’t even remember all of these names, and these are all individual people,” Toby Seabold said. “It’s a whole life.”

“When you call the police and ask for help, someone shouldn’t die after asking for that,” Lovane said.

“What if that was one of my friends?” Mesy asked.

Now, the question is: Where does the pursuit of social justice go from here?

“It has to start at a local level,” said Bryce Gould-Anderson. “We need to hold people accountable for their actions, and once that happens, we can go up the ladder to the national level and root out corruption in the justice system.”

“Without this club, I wouldn’t have realized that racism isn’t just seen in individual cases, it comes in so many forms,” student Mia Lovane said. “Thank you to this club for opening my eyes.”