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'Accountability, But Not Justice': New Bedford NAACP President Reacts to Chauvin Guilty Verdict

Americans around the country reacted to the guilty verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd on Tuesday. While many felt a glimmer of hope after hearing the verdict, many others say the work to end systemic racism is far from complete. CAI's Kathryn Eident talked more about this with Dr. LaSella Hall, president of the New Bedford chapter of the NAACP.

Eident Good morning. Thank you so much for joining us.

Hall Good morning. Thank you so much for having me, appreciate it.

Eident What was your reaction when you heard the news yesterday of the guilty verdicts?

Hall Yeah, it was a relief, I believe it was relief, my first initial human response was relief. That immediately followed by anger in that, I do not believe justice was done yesterday. I believe accountability occurred, and there should be accountability when we all watched what happened in that nine minutes. And so, I do believe that the legal system did what it should have done, which is hold folks accountable.

Eident What have you been hearing from others in the community?

Hall I think there are mixed emotions. As you said, this just happened yesterday. This verdict came down less than 24 hours. And I believe that there's a mix of emotions as time needs to allow for processing you, as you also where we are still awaiting the sentencing. And so, this process is not quite done yet at this point. So, many are waiting for the sentencing to come down in the next couple of weeks.

Some felt excitement, and like I said, I felt relieved. Others felt anger, disappointment, as you know, in the middle of the Chauvin trial, we've had more murders at the hands of the state. We've also found out yesterday [Tuesday] about a young woman who was shot by the police in the South. And so, while we're fighting on one hand for justice, we continue to find ourselves having to fight, on the other hand.

And so, there is just a lot happening around race relations in our country and I dare say around the world with how marginalized groups of people of color are being treated in these situations.

Eident The President yesterday in his remarks pointed out that it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors to get this guilty verdict. Do you think that this verdict signals any change, or do you do you agree with the President's words?

Hall I think time will tell. I think time will tell. I think folks in the legal field will ask themselves, you know, "Is this a signature case, a seminal case where a new precedent is set?"

For folks who've been watching this case and following the case, we understand that, at least in, you know, modern history and contemporary times, to have a chief of police to testify, to have fellow officers to testify on behalf of the prosecution—that's major. That's major.

And so will this set a new precedent, a new standard move forward for police calling out their own bad actors? I think that will have a lot to do with it. In terms of the legal ramifications, is this setting a new precedent. From a community perspective, we have to see. Because there continues to be case after case, situation after situation, where you have a person of color, a community of color, die at the hands of police officers, many who are white. And many whom are male, so there are also some gender concerns as well. And so, again, from a community perspective, we have to see, is this true, a true switching of how a paradigm shift—is a paradigm shift occurring, and how community sees the role of police officers in the role of law enforcement?

Eident I want to kind of zoom in locally into New Bedford and there's been some efforts to encourage police reform. There's also been a recent report put out by a Boston-based advocacy organization that points to what the report calls a large majority of black youth being targeted by police as compared to whites when looking at five years' worth of field reports. How do you feel the conversation is going in New Bedford regarding police relationships with people of color?

Hall I think a couple of things. I think the report presents some data, right? And I know different political folks that have already weighed in on this in terms of elected officials have weighed in on this. I think the report reflects the data and I think that data tells a story that there is a disproportionate level of concerns with the police interactions with folks of color, in particular those who identify as Black.

And so, we have to at least look at this report in a very real way, in a very serious way, take the report seriously and begin to have very serious conversations, not only about just having dialogue, but we need real reform.

The NAACP has been very clear that we've called for the removal of qualified immunity. We have called for body cameras to be worn on officers. We call for civilian review boards with subpoena power. Because we have to have real police accountability. And I think having that police accountability will allow for a level of trust to begin where trust has been broken, trust has not been restored.

There are many incidents that have occurred in New Bedford that the community is still seeking justice and looking for the story of what really happened. And I think until you can have true accountability and be aware of what really happened, investigations that are conducted either by the state or by the Department of Justice to come in and say, "OK, wait a minute, what really happened? What's happening in our community?"

That report is clear that there are bad actors inside of the New Bedford Police Department. The report does not say, all. But the report is blaming bad actors or what it sees as folks who have a higher rate of interacting with the Black community.

[Eident And, we are running out of time, Dr. Hall, but we have so much more to talk about and we hope to bring you back on Morning Edition soon. I thank you so much for your time LaSella Hall.

Hall Thank you.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.