Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba paused when he was asked whether the three guilty verdicts delivered in the Derek Chauvin trial could be considered a win. The question was not a flippant one, but of course the answer was no. After all, George Floyd is still dead. When police apprehended Floyd, a black man, for passing an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill 11 months ago, he died of something called ‘positional asphyxia’ after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds while Floyd pleaded for mercy. When Chauvin, a white man, was taken out of court after being found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, he was quietly escorted out of the chambers in handcuffs.
The overwhelming sentiment after the verdicts were handed down Tuesday was that justice was served. Dumba thought that, too. And he chose to look at the development as one that will lead to better things, saying, “I think it’d be a huge opportunity lost if we didn’t take advantage of that optimism and the circumstances being so free to talk about what is wrong with systematic racism in our community, the police brutality that’s happened in our backyard. These conversations need to be had.”
But a win? Well, it’s pretty difficult to think that way when, during the Chauvin trial and 11 days before the verdict came down, a 20-year-old Black man by the name of Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a white police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, after being stopped for a traffic violation. The veteran officer involved allegedly intended to fire a Taser gun. It’s hard to find victory when the names of black citizens being gunned down by police are becoming all too familiar to everyone. It was difficult for Matt Dumba to be jubilant because, the verdicts aside, he knows the task at hand remains huge.
“There is that sense of optimism, but I know even last week, there’s that feeling in our city of fear and desperation,” Dumba said. “Just sitting in my apartment these past couple of weeks all you hear are sirens downtown. There’s constantly something going on in our city and there’s a level of trust (between police and the Black community) that has been broken. To repair that, it’s going to take time.”
Ever since his stirring speech prior to the first game in the Edmonton playoff bubble last summer, Dumba has been thrust in the role of social activist, one he has embraced. The interesting thing about him, though, is that his mother is at least half Filipino and his father is Romanian and German. He told The Hockey News for a piece last fall that he identifies as Filipino. Even though he is not a person of color, it really doesn’t matter. Many, many people have thought over the years that he is, and he has countless experiences of being called the N-word to back it up. Dumba has become a key player in the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Last fall, he was all set to launch the Matt Dumba Hockey Without Limits Camp for 150 kids to try hockey for the first time. Unfortunately, it was scrubbed because of the pandemic.
This is Dumba’s fight, too, and he’s not about to back away from it. “I’m not concerned about my safety,” Dumba said. “It’s about the kids in those communities, how they feel on a day-to-day basis. Their own anxieties that they have to live with, the exasperation that they feel because problems in their communities have always been swept under the rug. To be there for them, as role models and leaders in our community, we all have a hand in that and to step up. I’m really proud of my team, my teammates, my organization, how we’re going to be there for the community.”
Dumba and his teammates live in a community that has been on tenterhooks lately. As Dumba said, there is a lot of healing to do. Nobody knew how things were going to go or what the reactions to the verdict would be. As it turns out, it was a celebration, in stark contrast to what happened in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. Dumba helped spearhead an initiative called Rebuild Minnesota, which was established to raise money to clean up the area and help the small businesses and no profits that were affected by the rioting that followed Floyd’s death and the pandemic. But Dumba could absolutely see where those who took matters into their own hands were coming from, given their level of frustration.
“Everyone has their own way of handling this,” Dumba said. “Looting and rioting have always been a form of protest against a society…that values products more than its people in those communities. So I could understand that and to see the joy…that they got it right here, it’s huge. For it to be all said and done and for the verdict to go the way it did, that’s awesome.”