London Williams stood in Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., moments before the verdict was read in George Floyd's murder trial Tuesday, wondering how he would cope if the white police officer who killed the Black man was acquitted.
"I feel very nervous. It's already hard as it is as a Black man in today's society," said Williams, standing with a date in the space near the White House renamed after Floyd's death last May. "If this doesn't go right, I don't know how safe I will feel."
Then, the verdict came for former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin: guilty on all counts. Williams, 31, doubled over with emotion, covered his face and wept.
With that outcome, Black Americans from Missouri to Florida to Minnesota cheered, marched, hugged, waved signs and sang jubilantly in the streets. But they also tempered those celebrations with the heavy knowledge that Chauvin's conviction was just a first, tiny step on the long road to address centuries of racist policing in a nation founded on slavery.
Many said they had prepared for a different result after watching countless deaths of people of color at the hands of police go unpunished. The shooting death of another Black man, Daunte Wright, by officers in suburban Minneapolis during the trial and of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago last month heightened tensions and muted the court victory for many.
"We are relieved but not celebrating because the killing continues," the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who traveled to Minneapolis for the verdict, said in a telephone interview. "We hope this is the breaking point to stop legal lynching."
In St. Louis, Missouri, a police association of predominantly Black officers called the verdict important but "a pebble in the ocean."
"This victory is small but historical. Yet, why should we be thankful for something that is right? Why should we be thankful when George Floyd doesn't have his life or his future?" the Ethical Society of Police, which represents about 260 St. Louis officers, said in a statement. "We all need to continue to fight for a change. ... We need change to end this systemic racism."
Still, the verdict buoyed others who saw the trial as a litmus test for how sincere Americans are about racial justice and consequential police reform after Floyd's death set off global protests. Jurors in the high-profile case deliberated for 10 hours over two days. Chauvin was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read.
"It means so much to me," said Venisha Johnson, a Black woman who cried at a gathering in what's been dubbed George Floyd Square in Minneapolis. "I've been praying for George every day, every morning at 6 a.m. I'm just so happy. The way he was murdered was terrible! But thank you, Jesus."
In Houston's Third Ward, the historically Black neighborhood where Floyd grew up, a small crowd gathered under a tent near a mural of Floyd to listen as the verdict was read on TV. People driving by honked their car horns and yelled, "Justice!"
"We feeling good. We thank everybody that stood with us. It's a blessed moment," said Jacob David, 39, who knew Floyd and wiped away tears.
Floyd's death on May 25 as Chauvin pressed a knee to his neck and the graphic bystander video that captured him pleading that he couldn't breathe shocked and appalled the world and triggered protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
"We've just become so accustomed to not receiving justice. I'm just so very, very overwhelmed right now," said Tesia Lisbon, a community activist in Florida's capital of Tallahassee.
Lisbon was one of 19 people arrested by police last September during a Black Lives Matter march.
"We just got so used to not hearing good news, to not having the justice system on your side for so long," Lisbon said.
Republican leaders were cautious in what they said after the verdict.
"It's jury's decision. I hope — you know, I think they can appeal whether or not he got a fair trial, but I told everybody that this is the way the system works," said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I accept the jury's verdict and leave it up to the court."
As people rejoiced, law enforcement from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, prepared for any unrest in the hours to come.
In Grand Rapids, which had some of Michigan's worst violence after Floyd's death, authorities placed concrete barriers around the police building before the verdict was announced. Officials said they would protect the right to peacefully assemble but also wanted to be on guard for "chaos and destruction."
In a statement, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Tuesday's verdict "a reminder to continue pushing for justice in every corner of our society. My heart is with George Floyd's family, and I want them to know that millions of Michiganders, Minnesotans, and Americans mourn with them."
And in Portland, which has seen repeated protests and vandalism since Floyd's death, the mayor declared a state of emergency and put state police and the National Guard on standby to help local authorities with any unrest. Small groups of protesters have set fires, broken windows and vandalized buildings, including a church, a Boys & Girls Club and a historical society, in recent days over the deaths of Wright and Toledo, as well as a fatal police shooting in Portland last week.
At a news conference minutes before the verdict was read, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked businesses to prepare by securing trash bins and making other preparations.
The FBI's Portland office also said in a statement that the verdict was a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to build a more just society but cautioned that anyone caught vandalizing property or committing any other crime while protesting would be held accountable.
GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras is recommending the district ask county commissioners to kick in more than $13 million to give raises to teachers and administrators next school year.
During a meeting Tuesday with the Guilford County Board of Education, she also recommended asking county leaders to increase pay for school nutrition workers by $1.9 million and to permanently fund a previously approved salary increase for bus drivers for $1.6 million. And she’d like to see the commissioners cover another almost $3.3 million for expected increased operating costs.
That comes out to about $25 million more for the 2021-22 operating budget than the district received from the county for the current school year. The new budget year starts July 1.
If approved, that would be a bigger increase in funding from the commissioners for the annual operating budget than the district has either requested or received in at least the last couple of years, if not longer. The schools operating budget does not include expenses such as school construction, renovation and repair, which are budgeted separately.
Since last year’s budget season, the county Board of Commissioners has undergone a major political shift, with Democrats now in the majority. The county manager, who will make his own budget recommendations to the commissioners about funding for schools and the rest of the county, is also new to the job. Former county Budget Director Michael Halford started as county manager in January, replacing former County Manager Marty Lawing.
Contreras pitched the idea of a $10 million increase in local salary supplements for Guilford County Schools teachers as a start toward matching the salaries paid by the state’s two largest school districts.
Teacher salaries are mostly paid by the state, but local districts can add supplemental pay.
Over the last five years, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district increased its supplement by about 30% and Wake County by about 27%, according to the superintendent’s presentation. Meanwhile, Guilford County, the state’s third-largest district, increased its supplement by about 4%.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake are each supplementing the average teacher’s pay by about $9,000, as compared to nearly $5,000 for Guilford County Schools. Projections shared by Contreras during her presentation showed that if those pay trends continued, both districts would be giving more than double the supplemental pay on average per teacher than Guilford County by the 2023-24 school year.
However, if the pay trends continued but Guilford County increased salary supplements by $10 million each year for the next five years, the district would be on par with Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake by 2025-26. That’s what Contreras said she wants to see.
School board member Linda Welborn said she agrees that Guilford County needs to increase salary supplements. But as a parent of college students in Raleigh and Charlotte, she wondered whether striving to match those cities makes sense, given what she has observed are higher costs of living.
Maybe, she said, Guilford County is more comparable to Durham, which is giving about $7,400 per year in supplements, or Winston-Salem/Forsyth, which is offering about $5,600.
Contreras said teachers graduating from college are more likely to focus on salary rather than balancing in the cost of living. And not everyone who works in the Wake or Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools lives in Raleigh or Charlotte. Some commute, including from the Triad.
Moreover, Contreras said she thinks the district can save money it would later spend on remedial schooling by ensuring that more students have high-quality classroom teachers at the outset.
“Pay people what they are worth; get the best people in,” Contreras said, describing her preferred strategy.
GREENSBORO — The Guilford County Association of Educators on Tuesday called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage for hourly school employees as well as a 5% pay increase for all school employees.
Kenya Donaldson, the association’s president-elect, said at a news conference that in 2018 the General Assembly decided that state employees deserved a $15-an-hour “living” wage, but exempted school workers.
Superintendent Sharon Contreras included a $15-an-hour minimum wage for school cafeteria workers and bus drivers in her proposed request to county commissioners, which she shared with the Guilford County Board of Education on Tuesday. And she proposed more than $10 million in increased salary supplements for Guilford County Schools teachers.
Contreras acknowledged that her budget did not include a $15-an-hour minimum wage for other hourly employees, but said she expected to propose asking the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for the money in the following year.
The school board is expected to hold a budget hearing and then vote on a request to county commissioners on May 11.
In turn, commissioners are expected to hold a public hearing on June 3 and adopt a budget on June 17.
“GCAE stands in support of Contreras’ for our (School Nutrition Staff) workers, for our bus drivers, but that still is short of what we need,” Donaldson said at the news conference Tuesday. “We need continued support for all our classified staff. And we are calling on our state and our county commissioners to fill this void.”
Donaldson, a fifth-grade teacher at Brooks Global Studies in Greensboro, will assume leadership of the association on July 1 after being elected earlier this month. She said GCAE’s demands for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and 5% increase across the board line up with the North Carolina Association of Educators’ demands as well.
During Tuesday’s news conference, current association president Todd Warren pointed out that newly elected commissioner Mary Beth Murphy is also a Guilford County Schools teacher.
“We couldn’t be prouder to have a teacher voice, an educator voice willing to represent all of us on the board of commissioners,” Warren said. “That said, they still have hard choices to make and difficult discussions to have and we are going to be there every step of the way ... We are not going to quit with the county, we are going to move to the state and we are going to get a budget that is fair and that is right and that puts us on the right track for education in North Carolina. “
Michael Pelham, a cook at Dudley High School and father of four, was among the Guilford County Schools employees who spoke at the news conference on Tuesday and pushed for better pay.
“Being paid fairly would mean having the ability to pay my rent on time,” he said. “Being paid fairly would mean having the opportunity to take my daughters out on a date and not working a second job for DoorDash.”