A George Floyd protest leader on the Chauvin verdict, protecting her peace and the joy of roller skating

Tiffany Trotter was a teenager when she helped lead historic protests in the aftermath George Floyd’s murder. In the 11 months since, she gave a stirring speech in front of thousands in her hometown of Mobile, Ala., she has used that momentum to continue her activism and organizing around the South — becoming a part of the Movement for Black Lives and more recently helping improve voter engagement among Black people.

Reckon spoke with Trotter, 20, just an hour after Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder, which last year sparked mass protest across the country and throughout the rest of the world. While the conviction brought her some relief, she knows the continued fight for racial justice will be long and difficult.  

Rather than a turning point in policing and community safety, Trotter views Chauvin’s conviction as more of a crack in the system. While encouraged by the overcoming of the blue wall of silence — the term used when law enforcement refuse to give evidence against colleagues — Trotter knows there is a lot of work to be done to overcome the lack of accountability in police killings. 

For example, between 2013 and 2019, there were 99 charges brought against law enforcement officers among 7,666 police killings, according to Mapping Police Violence, an independent website that collects data on police violence and other law enforcement related data. Of the officers charged, 74 resulted in no conviction while the remaining 25 were found guilty. Overall, only 0.3% resulted in a conviction.

Reckon: You were at the center of George Floyd protests in Mobile, one of the most significant in the South at that time. Can you explain how much the verdict means to you right now as a young Black person living in the South?

Trotter: Just hearing the guilty verdict, it’s a relief. Like a big sense of relief. I was overcome by the moment. But at the same time, I do recognize that while justice in a way has been served, there’s still a lot of work to be done and acknowledged. A lot of people said that the police officers who testified against him broke down this blue wall of silence. Hopefully this will start a pattern with other cases that are being tried right now. Like with Kim Potter who shot Duante Wright.  

What have you been doing over the last 11 months since you led those protests?

The protest last spring is pretty much the event that kind of pushed me to continue actually picking out spaces in social justice. Within the past year, I’ve done some work with the Movement for Black Lives, helping improve Black voter engagement in Birmingham, learning how to create a defunding campaign and finding out what negotiating with local city leaders looks like. And then even just being able to learn and network with a lot of progressive Blacks. One benefit of this sector in a certain sense is actually being able to meet, not just Black people, but a lot of people of color, a lot of young people that are working towards a more progressive self.

A lot of liberals, especially a lot of left leaning people in the North and maybe the West Coast like to joke about the South saying, ‘oh, there’s never going to be any progress.’ And while it is hard, people are actually working really hard down here.

Do you think this is a major turning point in general policing in the country and will we now see more justice with regard to police killings against Black people?

My gut feeling as far as the legal cases is there’s still going to be a pattern of hit and miss. A lot of state laws are just so different. I think the culture of policing is shifting in a lot of departments. And while it may be slow, this conviction definitely made a crack in the system. I feel like maybe a lot of officers may be less likely to tolerate certain behaviors.

But as far as a national change towards what policing looks like — not even just policing but also community safety — Black people need to get to a place where we’re not heavily relying on local government and are able to, in a sense, self-govern and look out for each other, whether it’s socially, financially or just around safety. 

And just generally, how significant is this verdict with regard to racial justice across all areas of life, not just Black encounters with police?

I don’t believe that the decision in itself will heavily influence other areas of Black life, but the momentum that this case has created and the energy behind that verdict, will create more awareness. I think that the energy has created a very invigorated movement and I think that will make some changes and some waves within other aspects of black life and racial justice.

How do you plan to take this momentum forward as a racial justice protester and organizer?

Personally, I just keep going. The momentum for protesting has taken a nosedive since last spring. That is a little discouraging at times, but the only way to make change and address issues is you have to get out of your neighborhood and meet people not only locally but regionally and nationally. Even just being able to have those opportunities to connect with people in Birmingham and then being connected to people from like Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives has been hugely educational. My hope is I can take those skills and those lessons and bring them back to the community here and hopefully bring change.

One of my colleagues recently said that she avoided watching the trial because she wanted to protect her peace. How have you been able to protect yourself over the last year when you see other killings of Black people and other inequalities that weave themselves through your life?

I actually did a harm reduction seminar with a nonprofit in North Carolina, called Spirit House, I believe. That’s training for organizers about how to maintain your peace. Because if you are going into your community, trying to reduce, if you want to call it Black on Black crime or inner community harm, and outside harm, you have to be able to know what safety and peace looks like for yourself and within yourself.

After last spring, because so many cases received national attention, I make it a big deal not to watch the videos that go viral of violence against people or people being murdered. Even with watching the trial, I don’t see how those jurors got through it.

Overall, leaning on a lot of friends, other fellow organizers has been important. Since we’re kinda in a semi quarantine period, being able to just pick up a hobby that is not work related, doesn’t generate revenue in any way. Just to have a joyful hobby has been helpful.

I picked up roller-skating. 

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