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Southern Oregon Black Leaders React To Chauvin Conviction

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Demonstrators call for racial justice in downtown Medford on Saturday, June 6, 2020.

After the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday for the murder of George Floyd, leaders of Southern Oregon’s Black activist community reacted with a mixture of relief and hope that it will lead to broader change.

Keith Jenkins with the group SOBLACC or Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists and Community Coalition, says when the announcement came out that Chauvin was convicted on all three counts in Floyd’s murder, he was surprised, but that surprise soon turned to sadness.

“I mean, we saw it, we watched it happen,” he says, referring to cell phone video capturing Floyd’s death. “I shouldn’t be surprised that our court system finally got one right.”

Ashland City Counselor Gina DuQuenne says she hopes the conviction leads to police reform, intentional voting for offices like judges and federal representatives, and stronger accountability.

“To be able to make sure that people are held accountable at this level. If we don’t do that then murder will continue to happen,” she says.

Largely peaceful protests focusing on the death of Floyd, police brutality and the larger racial justice movement took place in Ashland, Medford and around the Rogue Valley in the summer of 2020.

In November the shooting death of Aiden Ellison, a 19-year-old Black teen sparked another round of protests. Ellison was shot and killed by 47-year-old Robert Keegan, a white civilian, during an argument over the teen’s music.

Both DuQuenne and Jenkins say police conflicts in Southern Oregon could be more easily avoided with a program like Eugene-based CAHOOTS, a mobile crisis response team dispatched to deal with mental health incidents, de-escalate conflicts and assist police.

“This didn’t have to happen.” DuQuenne says. “So many of the Black people who have died in recent years, that didn’t have to happen.”

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.