TORONTO – Shortly before batting practice, Marcus Semien and a couple of Toronto Blue Jays teammates sat in the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway Park anxiously waiting for the jury’s verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin.
But the time to take the field arrived first, so the veteran second baseman started working through his routine and when it was his turn to hit, he saw Ross Atkins in the dugout and asked him if the news was out. The GM told him Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges – second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter – in the killing of George Floyd last year, a conviction that should never have been in doubt, but was because of historical precedent.
“A lot of us were paying attention,” Semien said after the Blue Jays dropped a 4-2 decision to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. “Yes, we have a ballgame to play, but this is bigger picture, something that’s very important in this country. And I see a lot of relief from people. But I also still feel for George Floyd’s family. There’s still a life lost. I think that’s a big step in the right direction.”
Floyd died beneath Chauvin’s knee last May 25, his killing captured in a grizzly video that sparked mass protests against racism and police brutality across the United States and around the world.
The Players Alliance, a collective of more than 150 current and former Black players in the majors and minors dedicated to improving representation in the sport, said in a Twitter post that while the “verdict doesn’t begin to approach true justice, it’s a step in the right direction towards course-correcting the disproportionate police violence against Black Americans.”
We stand in support of today’s verdict in the George Floyd case. pic.twitter.com/b21BBOQTJG
— ThePlayersAlliance (@Player_Alliance) April 20, 2021
The Blue Jays called the jury’s decision “a watershed moment in holding police brutality to account,” but added that “until we see an end to the senseless killings of Black and Indigenous folks, and people of colour, we must all confront the inequities in our society.”
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 20, 2021
Despite the definitive evidence in the video, during which Floyd repeatedly says “I can’t breathe” and pleads for his mother as onlookers urge Chauvin to stop, a guilty verdict could not be taken for granted.
Before the Chauvin verdict, only seven officers had been convicted of murder among the thousands of U.S. police shootings since 2005, and fewer than 140 were charged, according to data from Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University.
Not even a high-profile video can guarantee a conviction.
It was 29 years ago this month that four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of charges related to the savage beating of a Black man named Rodney King, despite a widely disseminated video of the incident.
“We’ve seen it happen before. We’ve seen it happen where there’s a verdict that not a lot of people agree with,” Semien said of the apprehension ahead of the Chauvin verdict. “There’s something that we are all fighting for, which is justice. Everybody saw the video. There have been a lot of different police brutality cases where there is a video so everybody sees it. That amplifies everything when not just the lawyers and not just the jury see it, but everybody sees it on their phone.
“A lot more people have a voice now to speak up for change. And this will go down as one of the biggest verdicts in the history of our country, not only during a pandemic, but during a tough time last year and this year. So, this was an interesting day for sure, to say the least.”