PARIS – The guilty verdict in the trial over George Floyd's death was not just celebrated in America. It signaled hope for those seeking racial justice and fighting police brutality on the other side of the Atlantic and beyond, where Black Lives Matter has also become a rallying cry.
But the fight is far from over, activists, victims' families and others in Europe, South Africa and elsewhere said Wednesday.
A Minneapolis jury found ex-police officer Derek Chauvin guilty Tuesday on all counts of murder and manslaughter in the May death of Floyd, whose final words, “I can't breathe,” reverberated across the world.
“The name of George Floyd today brings this hope ... of a country that listens to its people,” said Assa Traore, a leading voice among those in France denouncing alleged police brutality and urging racial justice for the nation's large Black and North African population.
Traore, who spoke in an interview with The Associated Press, has been seeking justice since the 2016 death of her younger brother, who died in police custody after a chase. The death was not filmed and its cause has been fiercely disputed. Assa Traore led a massive Black Lives Matter protest in Paris following Floyd's death last May.
Acclaimed British author Alex Wheatle, who grew up in a children’s care home and was jailed at 18 for taking part in the 1981 Brixton race riots, said the news brought hope at a time when the U.K. is still “in denial” about systemic racism.
“For decades there’s been a long struggle here trying to exact some kind of justice, and we’ve never been satisfied with that justice,” he told the AP. “I just hope that this new attention really focuses the minds of those in charge in this country.”
Wheatle’s life story was recently dramatized in director Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology, about London’s West Indian community.
“What I’m most concerned about is the attitudes of the policemen up to this day,” he added, citing repeated cases of Black youths being targeted in stop-and-search operations.
The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said governments need to rethink policing practices. Floyd's death emphasizes just how much must still be done “to reverse the tide of systemic racism that permeates the lives of people of African descent,” she said. “The fight for justice goes on."
The verdict in the Chauvin trial has special resonance in post-apartheid South Africa.
“Despite the end of apartheid nearly three decades ago, we are still working to establish a truly non-racial justice system,” said William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation promoting good governance in Africa.
The verdict “will inspire South Africans to press for similar accountability here," he added.
"The ... policing and justice system, is still rigged against those who are Black and poor," said Judith February, a lawyer and board member of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The verdict gives new strength to demands for equality before the law and in the everyday lives of the increasingly racially diverse societies of Europe, where minorities, even second and third generation nationals, still struggle for respect.
Few may understand that better than Lee Lawrence. He has fought for justice for three decades since his mother was shot during a police raid on her London home in 1985, triggering the Brixton riots of that year and inspiring his memoir, “The Louder I Will Sing.”
The officer who shot Cherry Groce, paralyzed until her death in 2011, was never prosecuted. Lawrence said that “we would never have had this result back in 1985," and that the Chauvin verdict signals hope and progress to all those who have fought for justice over the years.
“It's worth protesting, It's worth marching. although it may seem that their fights were losing battles,” he said.
In France, the first class action lawsuit was filed in January to denounce, and address, alleged “systemic racism” within the police force. The move by six non-governmental organizations focuses on identity checks by law enforcement that, studies have shown, target minorities above all. The French government was given four months to respond before the case can be moved to court, according to the rules.
The French justice system is achingly slow, and Traore praised the speedy trial of Chauvin and the quick verdict.
In less than a year, she said, “George Floyd's honor and dignity was restored to his family. A verdict was delivered. A corner was turned in American history.”
Claims of systemic racism strike at the heart of the French ideal of a social melting pot where origins, skin color and religion blend into a fully assimilated citizenry and a colorblind society. Yet, examples of alleged discrimination and deadly violence pile up.
The death in January 2020 of French delivery man Cedric Chouviat two days after a struggle with police over an alleged traffic violation near the Eiffel Tower — filmed by the victim and a passer-by — led to a brief ban on police chokeholds, later repealed under union pressure. The case of Chouviat, along with the violent but non-fatal police confrontation with a movie producer during an identity check, also filmed, is languishing in a judicial limbo.
Many Palestinians have also followed the Floyd case with interest, speaking of a resonance with their own feelings of injustice. Lawyer Diana Buttu cited an alleged lack of accountability in the deaths of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army.
In Britain, Wheatle and Lawrence both said they felt encouraged that the Black Lives Matter movement and Tuesday's verdict will help effect change.
“I look at my TV screens, I look around the world. I thought, wow, you know, there’s a really strong feeling here that everyone wants justice, not just us Black people, but everybody," Wheatle said.
“I really feel that especially in the U.S. and the U.K., it’s up to the white majority to look to see how they can be involved,” he added. “It’s for them now to take up that cause and march with us.”
Sylvia Hui reported from London. Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg, South Africa, Masha Macpherson and Alex Turnbull in Paris, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed.