Point of View Columns

The Chauvin Verdict – What It Is and What It Is Not

Today Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts for killing George Floyd. This former Minneapolis police officer faces more than a half century of time in prison. In many parts of the country and the world this has been seen as a cause for celebration.

In some very real ways this verdict is a reason for celebration because it is so rare that in America a white policeman is convicted for killing a Black man. It is so rare that when it happens it is a cause for celebration. White police officers in America have been killing Black men with impunity for centuries – so when there is a unicorn of an outlier of a result where justice actually appears, it is a cause for celebration.

It should be pointed out that in the days and hours leading up to the verdict that there was real concern that there would be an acquittal or a mistrial. There was a real concern that even though Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd was viewed around the world, because in America the tradition was that white police officers could kill Black men with impunity.

In many ways it is a damn shame that a slam dunk, open and shut, videotaped murder might not be reason enough to convict a white police officer for killing a Black man. The concept of Black Lives Mattering has barely entered the national consciousness and even a casual student of history knows that there are far too many unreported tragedies at the hands of police that were never recorded and will never be known except by the dead victims and their bereaved families.

It should also be point out that this verdict could be a turning point, or a tipping point as Malcolm Gladwell has termed such opportunities for change. Even as a white supremacist America First Caucus was strangled in its Congressional crib, it is clear that many more Americans have become aware of the pernicious existence of the twin evils of racism and racial disparity throughout this nation.

When the President and Vice President of the United States take note of the conviction of a white police officer for killing a Black man any student of American history knows that this represents a real difference in America. The question remains as to what happens next.

There is already legislation pending in Congress – the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act –  that would provide new guidelines for police departments across the country when it comes to use of force. What cannot be legislated are the hearts and minds of the men and women in American law enforcement. What is not subject to a presidential executive order is the mind set of too many white Americans who are prepared to give the police the benefit of the doubt in virtually every lethal encounter with Black Americans, especially if there is no video record.

It is in fact telling that there was a sigh of relief when Derek Chauvin was convicted, because Black Americans know that verdicts in these kinds of cases have gone the other way – think Sean Bell, Eric Garner and Amadou Diallo for just a few sad and tragic examples. If nearly ten minutes of a video murder and the testimony of the chief of police and a boat load of experts was needed to get a conviction, what happens when the evidence is not as overwhelming?

Will white police officers continue to get the benefit of the doubt? Will Black men and boys have to consider even the most innocent encounter with the police to have the potential for a lethal outcome? Will Black mothers and fathers have to continue to tell their 8-year-old sons and daughters about the special care that they must take if they come in contact with the police? Conversations that white parents simply do not have with their children.

The Chauvin verdict does indeed represent the opportunity for change – but to be clear, it does not represent change itself.

The American justice system got it right this time.

We need for the American justice system to just be right.


5 thoughts on “The Chauvin Verdict – What It Is and What It Is Not

  1. TByrd says:

    Accountability was rendered today and not justice. Justice would be that G Floyd would still be living. Nevertheless, it is a positive move by US society.

  2. Loida Lewis says:

    What can be done to stop the militarization of the police? Vietnam War was over in 1973 but the military industrial complex had to turn to the police departments to continue the military industrial cabal to continue the flowing in of money.

  3. “ The question remains as to what happens next”. Give thanks Dr. Ford for clarity of your words on Chauvin guilty verdict. As to verdict, I think of the Nuremberg trial precedent “following order is not an excuse or defense”.
    On the other hand, the other Responsible parties that were not on trial for Mr. Floyd’s murder Chauvin’s Employer “the City of Minneapolis”, a municipal corporation that would claim immunity as an arm of the State “the State of Minnesota” via US Constitution Amendment Eleven.
    Did our justice “just_ice” system won?
    Did the State provide Chauvin’s training?
    What/Who gave Chauvin authority to kill, not the Bible “thou shall not kill”?
    1. Chauvin worked for City
    2. City work/enforces State Laws
    3. City and State claims Sovereign immunity

    Chauvin, now convicted, is subjected to US Constitution Amendment Thirteenth that permits “Slavery as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”.

  4. Lee A. Daniels says:

    You’re exactly right. This is an opportunity. But just an opportunity, and one does not have to live that long or read that much of American history to count up how many opportunities have been deliberately not taken up. As with the whole history of Black folk in America, the legal—and psychic—effort it took to render a simple justice was enormous. And, as the juxtaposition with the attempt to establish a “KKK branch” —I should say, “formal” branch, as opposed to the informal racist collective that now exists among the Republicans—the right-wing war against democracy will continue.

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