Philadelphia high school students offer reaction to guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial

People rally outside the courthouse in Minneapolis on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, after the guilty verdicts were announced in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. George Floyd's killing last year and the protests that followed led to a wave of police reforms in dozens of states, from changes in use-of-force policies to greater accountability for officers. At the same time, lawmakers in a handful of states have had success addressing racial inequities. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

People rally outside the courthouse in Minneapolis on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, after the guilty verdicts were announced in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. George Floyd's killing last year and the protests that followed led to a wave of police reforms in dozens of states, from changes in use-of-force policies to greater accountability for officers. At the same time, lawmakers in a handful of states have had success addressing racial inequities. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Since last Tuesday, when the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin was announced to the world, we’ve heard a range of reactions from pundits and politicians to actors and activists. But one of the groups in society whose voices haven’t been amplified in our media has been the youth.

Young people – whether they’re children under 12 or teenagers soon to graduate high school – have seen the unrest outside their doors, observed the ubiquitous footage that loops on news channels, and overheard conversations among adults about the murder and the ensuing trial.

So, how do they feel? What are their thoughts on the future of public safety? Are they feeling hopeful, or nothing at all?

WHYY asked the students in our Media Labs program to offer their reactions to the verdict. Below are snippets of essays penned by local high school students.

Ayanna Leggett, 11th grade, George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science

When I heard the verdict on the news, I was happy, sad, and sort of relieved. Happy that the jury was able to come to a proper verdict; sad, because it took another Black man losing his life to get here; and relieved, because if they hadn’t made that decision, who knows what would have happened in the aftermath.

For Philadelphia, this is a potential wake-up call to officers. It’s a sign that they can’t ALWAYS get away with murdering people.

Future criminal cases of police violence should be handled with the same care as the trial of Derek Chauvin. For my community, this was a hopeful event. While I don’t think that the relationship between police officers and my community will get better, I do believe that more convictions of law enforcement will help decrease the number of stories like that of George Floyd.

Sanai Allen, Walter B. Saul High School

George Floyd was murdered. Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, which was unfair. We heard him saying “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin showed no care for Floyd’s life, so now his life is over. Speaking for the Black community, it’s a relief to know that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges.

We need to continue to protest.

The police hurt and kill our people, then ask questions later. In my opinion, justice hasn’t been served because tragic events like this still happen. The verdict was just one man being held accountable for his actions.

It’s crazy that when you’re walking down the street, you must think: “I pray I don’t run into any police officers and have to die today.” This is the world that we live in, no place is safe anymore and it’s sad to believe that.

Corin Rawls, Walter B. Saul High School

When I learned that Derek Chauvin had been found guilty, I felt relieved. While in school, I heard they were concluding the jury deliberations in the trial. Emotionally, I was happy. Physically, I felt like I could relax, because the trial was over. Milan Smiley, my classmate, said: “I am happy that the family of George Floyd will have some sort of justice.”

When asked, most people were pleasantly surprised with the charges and the final verdict. And not just because they were deserved, but because police officers are rarely dealt with as harshly as civilians.

My mom said, “I’m just happy that the charges stuck.”

Celeste Butler, Walter B. Saul High School

I think the charges against Derek Chauvin were somewhat fair, but they could’ve done more. It feels like if a law enforcement officer is killed by a person of color, prosecutors would be able to secure the highest form of punishment. Most people would get life or receive the death penalty for killing a police officer, especially in the manner Chauvin killed George Floyd. But Chauvin can only get up to 40 years but could get as little as 10 years. That doesn’t sound fair, in my opinion.

I think the rioting from last summer influenced the outcome in this case. It made the statement that we won’t stop until our communities get justice.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal