Students Relieved, But Not Satisfied, by Chauvin Conviction, With Mixed Feelings on School’s Response

The murder conviction on April 20 of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin all five GDS community members interviewed by the Bit feeling relieved but unsatisfied that the verdict would mark lasting change. GDS’ response to the case’s highly anticipated outcome consisted of multiple emails from administrators, an assembly speech and specially scheduled Zoom conversations, including some designated for Black students and teachers.

A jury in Minneapolis convicted Chauvin of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing George Floyd last May. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

“How’s George Floyd’s daughter doing?” sophomore Jacqueline Metzger asked in an interview. “No one’s thinking about her, because it’s harder to help her than it is to hurt” Chauvin. 

Before the result was released, junior Leila Jackson believed Chauvin would be found guilty but said it was unfortunate that she had any doubts at all. 

Metzger described her experience learning of the verdict while in rehearsal for the school musical, Spring Awakening. “I remember I was the only Black person in the room,” she explained. “Some people were cheering, and our director, Laura [Rosberg], started crying from joy. And I remember just feeling numb. I felt like I was supposed to be happier than I was, but I felt like people were more focused on hurting him [Chauvin] than missing George Floyd and mourning George Floyd.”

Rosberg, the chair of the performing arts department, explained in a written statement to the Bit that she “was weeping because it was justice for [George Floyd] and that, for a moment, represented justice for so many others.”

Junior Maddie Feldman, meanwhile, called the verdict a “victory” but said, “It’s not justice. Justice would mean George Floyd was still here with us.”

Junior Ike Cymerman took a slightly different view. Chauvin “killed George Floyd and [will likely be] put in prison for twenty-something years,” Cymerman said, suggesting the verdict could have represented justice.

The night before the verdict was released, a set of GDS counselors and administrators sent an email providing resources and self-care tips to help students prepare for the outcome. “They seem useful not necessarily for high school students, but I think for parents with younger kids,” Jackson said of the resources, “which I appreciate.”

Both Jackson and Feldman felt a strong sense of relief after hearing the verdict. “I know if it hadn’t been guilty on all counts,” Feldman said, “there would be protests in the streets in every city. And it’s really great that I can count on that reaction, but I think this [verdict] is the first step to accountability. Black Americans need healing.”

Head of School Russell Shaw sent an email to the community only an hour and a half after the verdict. “While today’s outcome is momentous,” he wrote, “it is simply one step forward in a much longer journey toward realizing our nation’s founding ideals, one which will undoubtedly involve steps forward and steps back.”

High School Principal Katie Gibson emailed near midnight that day. “Even with a guilty verdict on all counts,” she said, “this doesn’t feel like a victory or a time to celebrate, though it may provide some of us with a glimmer of hope.” She also wrote, “We are all carrying varying degrees of trauma tonight.”

Cymerman described his reaction to the verdict as feeling “happy.”

The day after the verdict, Gibson also read a speech addressing the verdict at the beginning of the high school Pride Assembly. 

“It was probably mostly for show, to show that GDS is on the side of people who are grieving,” Cymerman said of Gibson’s speech. “As a principal, you have to do that,” he added, “but I feel like we’ve heard it a lot.” 

Jackson found Gibson’s email “eloquent” and praised its content but also suggested that the email and speech may have been motivated by “performative notions, trying to appeal to students rather than to educate them or talk to them about their feelings.” 

In a statement to the Bit, Gibson said, “If anything that I say lands on any member of this community as performative rather than authentic, that is something that I need to hear and that I very much want to own and repair.”

GDS offered varied programming the day after the verdict, including affinity meetings throughout the day for Black students, faculty and staff and a Zoom for any community members to reflect. Advisories were also encouraged to discuss the verdict. 

Gibson explained that the administration planned a response for either trial outcome. In the end, she said, “I think we did a good job of creating lots of different spaces for people to engage in depending on their comfort level.” 

Gibson said her advisory’s conversation that morning focused on ways to reform the criminal justice system. Her advisees recommended that GDS create a Policy Institute track dedicated to criminal justice reform or a class dedicated to similar issues. 

In the immediate wake of the verdict, Metzger was upset to see many non-Black GDS students post their reactions on Instagram with captions celebrating Chauvin’s conviction as a complete victory. She posted a response encouraging people to consider the bittersweet effect of the verdict on Black members of their community. 

Many of Metzger’s followers reposted her response. “I saw a shift,” she said, describing how the narrative on students’ social media began to change from declarations of victory to calls for broader reform. GDS students are “listening,” she said, “and that is all that can be done now.”

Metzger worried some will view Chauvin’s conviction as the ultimate goal and will stop actively fighting racism and police brutality. “We got one person put into jail because he killed someone. The goal is to make sure that no one is killing people,” she explained. “The fight is only just beginning.”

Madeleine Popofsky ’22