By Guillermo Mayer –
When the Chauvin verdict was announced on Tuesday, my immediate thoughts were with the family of George Floyd whose members have carried an unspeakable burden for the nation so bravely. I hoped that the verdict lessened in some measure their tremendous pain.
Like millions of others waiting for the announcement, the verdict triggered a whole array of profound emotions in me. Accustomed to seeing police officers walk free after killing Black people and other people of color with impunity for so long, I had already begun to brace myself for the worst.
When the verdict was read by the judge, I cried tears of relief. Yet my instinct to celebrate was shadowed by the knowledge that while this was the right and obvious outcome, it was still such a rare moment in our American justice system that the verdict poses more questions than answers.
What does this verdict truly mean for racial justice in America? What were the forces that coalesced to bring it about this time, but not before? I share a few personal reflections and observations as an offering for further dialogue:
- Yesterday’s verdict would not have been possible without the millions of people across the U.S. and the globe who took to the streets to protest our racist criminal justice system and to make sure that Chauvin and the other police officers involved in Floyd’s murder were held accountable. Together, they raised both popular awareness and the political stakes like never before, making it abundantly clear that continued disregard for Black Lives would be met with mass resistance.
- The group of bystanders who documented Mr. Floyd’s murder while protesting the horrendous conduct of the police officers on the scene, and later bravely took the stand to bear witness, displayed limitless courage. The courage of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who provided the prosecution its most powerful tool while having the presence of mind to shield her younger cousin from viewing the obscene violence against Mr. Floyd, thwarted every attempt to hide the truth of the incident.
- To reach the goal of a guilty verdict, it took the great skill and leadership of a multi-racial legal team representing the Floyd family to prepare and carry out a successful legal strategy with the support of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
- We witnessed a very rare breaking of the Blue Wall of Silence with the testimony of the police chief and other members of the Minneapolis Police Department supporting the prosecution’s case against Chauvin.
These and many other forces contributed to a rare moment of much needed accountability. We should continue to explore them, learn from them, and replicate them.
Clearly, one verdict – even the right verdict – cannot bring back George Floyd or the many others who continue to die at the hands of the police. However, it is a spark of hope that our national reckoning with structural racism has achieved an important victory, one that may forecast changes to come.
Today we see more clearly than ever the need for our justice system to be reformed so that every person can have confidence in its protection. The calls for systemic change must be stronger, new approaches and policies must be forged, the mass movement for justice and accountability must continue. If the Chauvin conviction is another spark that will light the way for this to occur, then we have something very real to celebrate.
President & CEO Public Advocates Inc.