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There’s More Work To Do In Police Reform, North Texas Activists Say After Derek Chauvin Verdict

Changa Higgins and Dominique Alexander applaud as they and a group hear the guilty verdict.
Hady Mawajdeh
(From the left) Changa Higgins and Dominique Alexander are both members of the Next Generation Action Network. Both have taken their activism to politics and are running for Dallas City Council seats in the May election.

Local advocates say the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial is only the beginning. They plan to continue to push for legislation, fundamental changes in policing and more accountability among law enforcement in North Texas and around the nation.

A jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts over the murder of George Floyd. The three counts include: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Floyd's murder launched civil rights protests over the summer and a nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality.

'This Is Only The Beginning'

Dallas resident Rogelio Meixueiro, founder of the civic organization Latin-X Dallas, was one of the protesters marching in North Texas last year.

Meixueiro said he felt indifferent after the verdict was read because the work is not done.

“Si no tengo duda de que esto significa solamente el comienzo. Debemos seguir luchando por resposibilidad desde el department de policia y de nuestro oficiales electos," he said in Spanish. "I have no doubt that this is only the beginning. We must continue fighting for responsibility from the police department and our elected officials."

"Moving forward, We need to hold police accountable," he added in English.

He’s advocating for policies that set standards for police behavior, pointing to the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a first step. The bill would make changes like banning chokeholds and setting up a national registry for police misconduct.

The guilty verdict offered no comfort for Lula Villa. The Dallas community organizer works with Mothers Against Police Brutality, an organization founded last summer in the wake of George Floyd's killing. She said she still lives in fear.

“We know that Derek Chauvin is not an exception, that he's not one rotten apple in the bunch,” Villa said. “There's no amount of conviction or training or reform that can cure the fact that policing as an institution is rotten from the inside out. We know that we have Derek Chauvins still on the force across this country, including in our own city here.”

They hope the verdict will be an important step locally and lead to more concrete methods toward police accountability, Villa said.

'We Will Get There.'

Jennifer Miller.
Keren Carrión
Jennifer Miller, co-chair of the Dallas Alliance Against Racist And Political Repression, speaks to the crowd at Dallas City Hall on Tuesday, after a jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder.

Jennifer Miller is the co-chair of the Dallas Alliance Against Racist And Political Repression. Speaking outside Dallas City Hall on Tuesday evening, she had a straightforward message to the crowd of about 30 people.

“The way that things are going right now, does not work for any of us. It doesn’t work for Black and brown people especially,” Miller said.

The full-time technical support specialist and part-time activist said the current structure of policing was completely untenable. She reminded the group that despite getting a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, they would need to keep pushing to change the system.

Marissa Rodriguez.
Keren Carrión
Marissa Rodriguez, organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Dallas, attended Tuesday's rally to celebrate the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin.

Protest organizer Marissa Rodriguez says she agrees. She was in the crowd holding a sign that read “Stop the War On Black America.” Rodriguez said she was happy George Floyd’s killer was found guilty on all charges. But she also knew nothing was going to change overnight.

“It’s slow-going; it’s painful; it’s like childbirth. But it happens eventually. We will get there. It’s just slow-going," Rodriguez said.

When asked about the small crowd and if the movement to reimagine policing still had momentum, Rodriguez said the size of a protest doesn’t matter. What does is that people are talking to one another. Having difficult conversations, she says, is how change happens.

'We've Been Looted For Years'

In response to the verdict, some advocates are continuing to call for cuts to the city's police budget. They advocated for slashing police funding during the last budget cycle, but it remained largely intact.

Mercedes Fulbright is an organizer with the social justice organization In Defense of Black Lives Dallas. She said the verdict is one form of accountability, but real justice doesn’t come from the courts.

“The legal court system has given us collective trauma, hurt and heartache,” she said. “For us, it really is important about being able to get beyond these moments of injustices and actually get to a place of justice in which police don't actually have the means to take someone else's life.”

Hady Mawajdeh | KERA News
Mercedes Fullbright at a demonstration last July.

Fulbright is pushing for the creation of an office of violence prevention in Dallas. She's also keeping a close eye on discussions about the city budget.

Dallas resident Kristian Hernandez said Tuesday's guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial was one she expected. After last summer protests, Hernandez co-founded the group Our City Our Future.

The group informed residents about the importance of the city budget while pushing to end the over-policing of Black and brown communities.

“I think it's important that this verdict be a turning point, a recommitment to fight for our communities to take back what we deserve,” Hernandez said. “We've been looted for years by landlords, by billionaires, by corporations who keep us policed and keep us in poverty. While police budgets sit there with bloated budgets and continue to harm and kill with impunity.”

She said she'll continue to call on the city to defund the police department and invest more in neighborhoods.

'We Stand In Solidarity'

Advocates with Next Generation Action Network came together to watch the verdict as it was announced.

Dominique Alexander said this is a moment of accountability, but this is only the beginning of the conversation.

"When we are out here marching in Dallas for something that’s in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and we stand in solidarity in this movement, it is about the entire culture of policing. There is a lot left to be done."

He said as an organizer he's ready to hold local leaders accountable for continued change.

"I’m ready to see these laws say that Black lives matter," he said. "I’m ready to see these ordinances. I’m ready to see the Mayor Eric Johnson put real change into effect in Dallas Police Department. I’m ready to see Chief Eddie Garcia do real things inside of DPD."

Laylani Russell agreed with Alexander that the moment is "bittersweet."

"It’s bittersweet because it’s so exciting that somebody is held accountable for their actions, but it’s bittersweet because we’ll never get George Floyd back," she said.

Laylani Russell speaking into microphones.
Keren Carrión | KERA News
Advocate Laylani Russell said she wants local leaders to understand this isn't a one-off incident, but part of larger systemic issues that leave her and her daughter in fear every day.

Russell said she's running for the city council in District 4 because she wants to see leaders who care.

"I’m sick and tired of begging leadership to care enough about us to know that our lives truly matter," she said. "To truly understand that it is not a one-off situation, that every time I see sirens, every time I hear something about an officer, I get scared."

She said it's a time of celebration, but there's more to be done to hold Chauvin accountable.

"It is time now for us to be excited, yes. Celebrate, yes. But we still have to wait on sentencing," Russell said. "We still have to wait on if he’s going to be able to appeal. We still sit at home and wonder if the justice system is going to work for us."

'Today, The System Worked'

Local officials also shared their thoughts about the verdict Tuesday.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement saying "ultimately, the rule of law prevailed."

"A jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers has delivered justice in the only way that they could," Johnson said. "We still have more work ahead of us to make our city stronger, safer, and more equitable. But today, the system worked."

Terrance Hopkins, a Dallas police officer and president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, said the verdict in Derek Chauvin's murder trial is a win for society. Hopkins said it gives law enforcement an opportunity to build trust with the community.

“I will continue working in a community to basically just explain to communities, how we act as law enforcement, how we need our community to respond and how we can all work together to accomplish the same goal,” he said. “And just remind the community that when officers, the very few that make these very bad judgment calls, we've got to maintain the ability to hold them accountable.”

Hopkins said officers must own up to their mistakes.

Next Generation Action member Changa Higgins, who's also running for a District 7 Dallas City Council seat, said the guilty verdict was a direct result of the summer protests.

"If we did not see the kind of people power on the streets that we saw this summer, protesting and the outrage because of George Floyd’s death, we would not have gotten those guilty verdicts today — make no doubt about it," he said.

He called on Dallas organizers and activists not to let up, emphasizing the importance of staying on the streets and making the city uncomfortable.

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Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.
Hady Mawajdeh has been a reporter, producer, and digital editor at KERA since 2016. He is the creator and the co-host of KERA's first narrative podcast, Gun Play. And prior to his work in engagement, he also reported on arts and culture, social justice, and gun rights for the newsroom.
Alejandra Martinez is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). She's covering the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities and the city of Dallas.