The conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd was seen as a victory for activists who have been fighting against police brutality and excessive force for years. For two mothers whose sons were killed by police decades ago in Prince George’s County, the verdict has taken on personal meaning.
Like millions of Americans, police accountability activist Marion Gray-Hopkins watched Floyd's murder trial from gavel to gavel.
“When I heard that verdict, ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty,’ it was just like a sigh of release, just like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders,” Gray-Hopkins said.
She went through the same experience more than 20 years ago, when a Prince George’s County Police officer was charged with shooting and killing her son Gary Hopkins Jr.
That trial, however, had a very different result. The officer was found not guilty.
When asked about the outcome of Floyd’s murder trial, Gray-Hopkins said she was “pleased” and “ecstatic." She stops short of calling the verdict justice, instead referring to it as accountability.
“Justice would be if we didn’t have to go through these trials at all,” she said.
The fact that Chauvin’s former fellow officers and police chief broke the code of silence and testified against him were critical in winning the conviction, Gray-Hopkins said.
“You had prosecutors that were on their game. They were, I mean, spot on. They did their homework unlike in my trial,” she said. “I had a prosecutor who was very junior, had never tried a murder case before.”
Dorothy Elliott also knows the kind of grief Gray-Hopkins experienced firsthand. Her son, Archie, was shot and killed by police nearly 30 years ago while he was handcuffed in a patrol car in District Heights. No one was ever charged for his killing.
Elliot watched as Chauvin was convicted.
“I was elated to hear the verdict. It was long, long overdue,” as is often the case in cases like hers, she said.
Elliot also said policing should be about helping people, and that people of color should not be perceived as a threat.
“If you have a prejudiced heart, or a heart that is set out to kill or maim Black people, then get off the police force," she said. "There’s another job for you. And it should not be in policing."
Activists like these two mothers have never given up the fight for accountability in police killings, and their work has paved the way for results.