It’s amazing to think that just yesterday, when the Chauvin jury began its deliberations, it was so easy to fear the worst: that, despite the infamous video and compelling witness testimony, there would be a hung jury, a split decision or even a finding of not guilty on all counts. We’ve seen this story too often to think otherwise. Only when I heard the Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! could I exhale and feel that the American justice system had finally worked, and the perp was held accountable. I joined with millions around the country who wept with relief.
Whenever I watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach. How could George Floyd’s family watch the trial every day and see, over and over again, the brutal, callous and indifferent way police
officer Derek Chauvin killed the unarmed 46-year-old African-American accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill? Would we ever have seen this verdict were it not for the video capturing the May 25th murder of Floyd? Would any
other rendering of this seminal event have triggered a year of protests against police abuse of power in treating Blacks, men especially? The sad, indeed the outrageous, fact is that these events happen regularly, and now, after a year of Black Lives Matter protests internationally, white America can no longer pretend otherwise.
Think George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and other names that have become household words because they died from excessive use of police force. Think 13-year-old Latino Adam
Toledo shot and killed March 29 by a pursuing Chicago police officer despite the child’s having followed the officer’s directions when Toledo was cornered.
On April 11, 20-year-old African-American Daunte Wright was pulled over, shot and killed in Minneapolis, for having an air freshener hanging from his rear view mirror. Officer Kim Potter supposedly reached for her Taser and
grabbed her gun instead. Even this is not an unusual event. Many of these victims were not angels; some had police records, previous run-ins with the law. But they didn’t deserve the death sentence for minor infractions.
As George Floyd’s life slowly ebbed over the nine minutes 29 seconds that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck,
the world looked on in shock. A crowd of passers-by watched in horror, pleading with the police to stop the murder. Witnesses, some of them mere children, videotaped the event and later went to court to testify courageously and eloquently. For 11 months, tens of millions of white Americans joined their Black brothers and sisters protesting the atrocity. Our former Massachusetts Governor, Republican Mitt Romney marched in Washington. There were peaceful Black Lives Matter marches even in a white state like Idaho.
The George Floyd case was unusual only in the availability of that horrifying, indisputable video. Imagine the outcome if it
didn’t exist. Ironically, its existence contributed to a pro-police verdict. The trial made clear that there are guidelines for proper police conduct and most law enforcement officials adhere to them professionally. The Minneapolis Police Chief quickly fired Chauvin, and police officers, including the Chief, stepped up to testify for the prosecution. This is all good news for policing across the United States, the clear rejection of the dark side of law enforcement. The verdict is a clarion to demand more equitable treatment of people of color by well-trained law enforcement agencies whose leaders carefully screen applicants and regularly weed out bad apples.
This could be a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle to redress our nation’s institutional racism. The ongoing battles for equal justice could contribute to efforts to overcome inequities in housing, education, and medical care.. Will congressional passage of some version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing act become a Step Two in an effort to forge constructive economic and social change? I’d like to think that the past year has further awakened us to the physical and emotional costs of the status quo.