FARGO — The guilty verdicts for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday, April 20, did not come as a surprise to Wess Philome, an organizer with the racial justice group OneFargo.
A Hennepin County jury took 10 hours of deliberation to find Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death of George Floyd.
“I wasn’t shocked, I was relieved. Justice is being served, but we are nowhere near complete. I’m still in skeptic mode,” Philome said, adding that he will be watching Chauvin’s sentencing closely.
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What surprised Philome more was the public statement made by the city of Fargo and Fargo Police Department.
Shortly before 6 p.m., city and police officials issued a statement saying they support the guilty verdicts, and that they stand ready to “Protect all residents, businesses and infrastructure in the event of dangerous escalations against anyone in our community.”
The statement continued: “The City and FPD wholeheartedly respect residents’ rights to assemble and protest, with full anticipation and confidence in peaceful and constructive expressions on these important issues.”
“The city is trying to do the right thing,” Philome said. “They wanted to be loud about it and that caught me more by surprise than the verdict did.”
Fargo Public Schools also sent out a statement on Chauvin’s trial saying that the district is supporting students and staff by equipping them with advice and direction to help all students feel supported.
“FPS recognizes that students and staff may need additional emotional support in the lead up to the verdict and after the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd,” the district said in its statement. “Further, we understand the verdict may have a greater impact on students and staff of color.”
Although OneFargo, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and other activist groups in the area didn’t hold any rallies after the verdicts were announced, Philome and others attended a briefing at North Dakota State University where Provost Margaret Fitzgerald spoke to students about what the university is doing to address racism on campus.
Students pressed Fitzgerald and other university leaders on what they planned to do about ongoing racist threats against students of color.
Lexi Francis, a junior, said she had personal experience in dealing with such threats as a person of color.
Francis said she was recently sent pictures of George Floyd with a naked black man kneeling on his neck by a group that called themselves Derek Chauvin fans.
“I was so scared to report it because I thought I was going to get hate crimes. I was scared for my life because NDSU and MSUM don’t hold students accountable,” Francis said.
Phillip Hunt, the university’s registrar, asked if the threats were reported.
“The truth of the matter is our job is to help protect you from those things, and if our structure isn’t serving that purpose then we need to know about that so we can have an opportunity to address that,” Hunt said.