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I’ve been increasingly worried in recent weeks about what a not guilty verdict would bring, not just in the streets of Minneapolis or around the country, but in the beliefs of Americans who yearn for justice. America could explode, and understandably so. The widespread protests last summer underscored how many Americans have had enough of police officers who feel entitled to engage in abuse and even murder without consequences.
When the verdict on all three counts was announced, my first thought was about justice being served. As the ACLU noted on Twitter, this is the first time in Minnesota state history that “a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a Black man.”
In this moment, it felt that we could concretely see the arc of history bending toward justice. This after the blue wall was broken and key Minneapolis officers, including the Chief of Police, testified against one of their own. This after a jury comprised of Blacks and whites and multi-racial Americans quickly returned a verdict of guilty on three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
But this was not a moment to celebrate. Because George Floyd would never again kiss his girlfriend, hug his family or take another breath. Because his murder means justice can never be fully realized. Because, as President Biden noted after the verdict, this remains a “much too rare” step to deliver “basic accountability.”
It was over very fast. But there was this moment, a first of its kind in Minnesota, when we could see that the now-convicted murderer would be held accountable for his crimes.
Without the courage of Darnella Frazier, it’s hard to see how we would have reached this day. Her willingness to confront the horror before her eyes, her cellphone raised, made it possible for the world to witness Derek Chauvin grind his knee into George Floyd’s neck, minute after minute after minute.
Darnella Frazier. Let’s remember her name. Let’s remember her powerful words of testimony before the court: “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.” Let’s hope this now 18-year-old young woman can begin to heal from the trauma of that terrible day.
We must also keep in mind that we are only at the beginning—that this verdict only illuminates the potential for our country to confront the failure of policy and practice, the necessity of police reform, and the reality of an entrenched system that has given license to criminal acts by uniformed individuals who should be protecting everyone. “We must not turn away. We cannot turn away,” Biden said.
We also should hope that this court verdict strengthens our collective capacity to trust what our eyes and ears tell us, no matter how much those in power may exploit their positions to deny us the tools to see and know. As I asserted in my earlier post, “Trusting What Your Eyes and Ears Tell You,” about this murder trial and the degradations of the last four years, “there are terrible, criminal, no-good people who will do everything they can to convince you not to believe what you see and hear—to ignore what they are doing.” We are capable of overcoming them.
We are not at the end of the effort to serve justice. We are at the beginning. Think of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo and so many others. Think of the three other police officers who stood by while Derek Chauvin committed murder.
But for this day, we should take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, envision a bend in the arc, and be hopeful for better days ahead