Jacob Aaron Bell was arriving home from work Tuesday as director of operations at the Family Freedom Center in Duluth when his phone started 'blowing up.' The verdict from the Derek Chauvin trial was in and expected to be read at 4 p.m. The verdict came back as guilty, on three charges: second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.

Bell turned on his computer and watched the verdict while texting his friends.

"It was a surprise, not in terms of the verdict. We've been cautiously optimistic, but the speed of it," Bell said. "I thought they were going to drag this out forever, but considering they found him guilty on all charges, it does make sense that they were able to come back so quickly."

Elsewhere in Duluth, a group of 15 to 20 protestors gathered at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial and marched down Superior Street and through Canal Park to share the news. March organizer Veronica Davis, 21, of Duluth, said it started off quiet after the verdict was read.

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"Everyone just felt a sense of relief. Then when we started marching, that's when the energy built up," Davis said.

Davis said she's ready to take "an emotional break" after the verdict as it's been "a lot to handle" throughout the trial.

"I hope everyone here today joins me in that because as an ally, it's been a lot to carry," Davis said. "But Daunte Wright is next. He needs justice next."

Tania Aubid waves a flag on First Street in Duluth during an April 20, 2021, march following the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict. She said she came from Aitkin County to support the group and “stand on the right side of history.” (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)
Tania Aubid waves a flag on First Street in Duluth during an April 20, 2021, march following the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict. She said she came from Aitkin County to support the group and “stand on the right side of history.” (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)

Following the march, participants were invited to take part in a candlelight vigil at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial to honor the life of George Floyd.

The vigil was held at 7 p.m. and consisted of a small number of people coming and going, paying their respects.

Duluth resident Jeanette Thomas attended the vigil and said that while she feels good about the trial verdict, she is still reeling from the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd.

"It's not gonna bring him back," she said of the guilty verdict.

Like Bell, University of Minnesota Duluth professor of communication Rebecca de Souza was arriving home from work when she heard the news. For her, it was also a "great relief."

"I hadn't realized how anxious about it I was until I heard it," de Souza said. "I'm relieved and I hope that it changes the way that police officers, especially white police officers, see themselves. I hope they recognize that they can be held accountable for their actions."

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Duluth City Council President Renee Van Nett was happy to see "justice for George Floyd and his family."

"Moving forward, I want to focus on healing and strengthening any and all relationships between law enforcement officials and the community here in Duluth," Van Nett said. "We need to focus on healing and moving forward from these horrific events. They have to come to a stop."

A "Black Lives Matter" sign rests in a baby stroller on First Street in Duluth on April 20, 2021. People gathered in response after Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the killing of George Floyd. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@duluthnews.com)
A "Black Lives Matter" sign rests in a baby stroller on First Street in Duluth on April 20, 2021. People gathered in response after Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the killing of George Floyd. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@duluthnews.com)

De Souza agrees that more changes need to come moving forward but maintained that the verdict "is not really justice, but basic accountability."

"We're just not there yet," de Souza said. "This is just a step, a first step. We need greater systemic changes to see justice really served."

City Councilor Janet Kennedy paused to pray for Floyd's family, the community, the state and the nation.

"I'm still processing what it means," Kennedy said. "All of us living today still have to deal with racist policies and inequalities that were set up before any of us and that doesn't stop today. But now is the time for us to deal with them and prevent these sorts of things from happening in the future."

Davis would also like to see changes in implicit bias from the police. She said she's been profiled by the police in Duluth and would like to see more training in that regard.

"I've been profiled all the time," Davis said. "It's something people like me have been used to and it needs to change. Stop looking at people who are brown and assuming that they're more dangerous."

As for Bell, he's ready to take time to celebrate the small win, and then "continue doing the work that needs to be done tomorrow."

"There's still so much work still to be done. As the Floyd trial ends, the Daunte Wright trial is just beginning," Bell said. "But for tonight, I'm ready to appreciate the win, the step in the right direction."

According to public information officer Kate Van Daele, Mayor Emily Larson, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken and Human Rights Officer Carl Crawford would not comment on the verdict. However, Larson took to social media Tuesday afternoon to post: "Justice & good trouble win today. Mr. Floyd, you live on. I'm sorry your life ended as it did. When it did. How it did. All people deserve the basic respect of their humanity to simply exist. You've activated us to change & we are ready to do this work. Rest in power. Amen."

The Duluth NAACP released a statement in response to the verdict, repeating calls for accountability from the city of Duluth.

"Today, for the first time in Minnesota, a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a black man," the statement read. "While we celebrate the reckoning of Derek Chauvin, we remember this is an isolated incident of police accountability, and it is the result of unyielding pressure from activists and advocates throughout the weeks and months following George Floyd's murder to hold Chauvin accountable for his actions. We remember oppression is embedded in our criminal justice institutions. Derek Chauvin is behind bars, but officers like him go to work every day armed with badges, guns, and the qualified immunity to act with impunity."

This story was updated at 9:35 p.m. with a statement from the Duluth NAACP. It was previously updated at 8:55 p.m. with information from the vigil and from march organizer Veronica Davis at 6:25 p.m., April 20. It was originally published at 6:04 p.m., April 20.

News Tribune reporter Adelle Whitefoot and Pine Journal reporter Izabel Johnson contributed to this story.