Advocates of police reform, social justice and more specifically, George Floyd, exhaled a collective sigh of relief on April 20 at the news of Derek Chauvin being convicted. Despite the occasion, Montclair State University did not issue a statement on the matter.
This comes as a surprise to some members of the Montclair State community, as colleges and businesses issued statements soon after the jury’s verdict had been confirmed. Rutgers University, Columbia University, companies like Ben and Jerry’s and leaders of Apple, Facebook and Microsoft had issued statements.
According to Andrew Mees, Montclair State’s media relations director, he explained via email on April 26 that there was no statement forthcoming.
“While we do not have anything specific to add regarding the verdict in the Chauvin trial, we without question have a stance on racial and social justice,” Mees said.
Mees went on to write, “I’d invite you to revisit Dr. Cole’s remarks on the topic from June of last year, which you can view here: Black Lives Matter: A Message to Students from Montclair State’s President.”
In the video, President Cole says, “Montclair State is a truly diverse community, not a perfect community, but one in which we are always engaged in the work of creating an environment that is welcoming to every individual.”
Cerise Williams, a freshman theatre studies major, said she was surprised when she discovered that Chauvin had been convicted.
“I didn’t have a lot of hope for this case at all considering accountability is not something you see often when it comes to police brutality,” Williams said.
Williams explained why the Chauvin verdict should be discussed.
“I find it kind of odd and disappointing that Montclair [State] hasn’t said anything,” Williams said. “Derek Chauvin being found guilty is a step in the right direction and needs to be talked about. It was a relief for the black community.”
Williams, who advocates for defunding the police, expressed what this moment means.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict is the absolute bare minimum,” Williams said. “It doesn’t mean that suddenly all police brutality came to a halt. There’s still so much for them to do. For us to do.”
William’s sentiments echo what Jessica Henry, a Montclair State professor in the justice studies department, wrote in her article published on nj.com.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
Now that the Chauvin verdict is in, let’s talk about how we change policing | Opinion https://t.co/rPDTSKe87s
— Jessica S. Henry (@jhenryjustice) April 21, 2021
“We can and must do better. Deep, meaningful, structural change is needed. A verdict holding Chauvin accountable for George Floyd’s needless death can not be the end. Rather, it must mark the beginning of ongoing change,” Henry wrote.
Luke Dillon, a sophomore visual art major, said Chauvin’s verdict should have been decided on earlier.
“It felt like it was a long time coming and should have happened months ago, to be honest,” Dillon said. “I was relieved since justice was being served, but the amount of outcry for this specific case and how clear the guilt of Chauvin was should have resulted in a more immediate sentencing, I believe.”
Dillon added that Montclair State not issuing a statement did not bother him.
“Simply making a post about the conviction wouldn’t solve much,” Dillon said. “I already have confidence [Montclair State] is a reasonably tolerant and inclusive school, for the most part, so it’s not like the administration celebrating an act of justice like this would change my mind.”
Sabrina Wigfall, a senior public and professional writing major, felt temporary satisfaction when she saw on Twitter that Chauvin had been convicted.
“I remember feeling so numb yet overwhelmed with the news because it felt unreal,” Wigfall said.
However, Wigfall said she found it disheartening to see the reaction of Floyd’s family being televised, a moment she believes the family should have had in private.
“As a Black queer woman, it’s unrealistic to celebrate a ‘win’ because there’s no such thing as winning when a Black life is taken for no reason,” Wigfall said. “It genuinely began to infuriate me to see social activists, including George Floyd’s girlfriend, thank Floyd for giving his life for the incitement of ‘political change’ and social justice rights.”
She went on to talk more about the subject.
“George Floyd was not a martyr, he was a Black man who was a father, friend, brother and more,” Wigfall said. “George Floyd deserved his life and he shouldn’t be praised for losing his life for a nonexistent change, especially since the other three officers are still roaming free.”
She said that as a Black student, she did not feel represented nor saw as much representation as she has seen at other universities.
“So, to know that [Montclair State] hasn’t made a statement feels insensitive, disrespectful and unprofessional,” Wigfall said. “This was such a big moment for the Black community after experiencing massive amounts of intense violence, deaths and ruthless battery over the summer.”
Wigfall believes that Montclair State not having made a statement regarding the Chauvin verdict makes their past statements regarding the Black Lives Matter movement disingenuous.
“[Montclair State] can’t speak about Black Lives Matter when it’s convenient for them to satisfy the public as most institutions have done for performative reasons,” Wigfall said. “By [Montclair State] not speaking out, makes every word that they’ve spewed about [the Black Lives Matter movement] feel like a lie, and honestly, it reflects negatively on their feelings about their Black students.”
Wigfall mentioned what the Montclair State community should acknowledge.
“16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed when Chauvin was convicted,” Wigfall said. “Non-Black people need to understand that Black people are more than hashtags and we’re dying every day at alarming rates, especially Black girls and women. This is not a game and we need more than mere shared captions, hashtags and photos to save our lives.”