Guilty On All Charges

Guilty. On all charges.

A surprise? It shouldn't have been. We all saw the video of a murder taking place before our eyes. The jury, a multiracial assemblage of Derek Chauvin's peers, saw the same thing. And it didn’t take long for them to come to that conclusion. 

The history of how power, race, and the will of the state have played out over the course of our nation's history did mean that this verdict, unanimous and complete, carried some currents of surprise. No facts or video were enough for millions of Americans watching the verdict in real time, with pits in stomachs, to feel the luxury of taking this outcome for granted.

We have been here before, far too many times. We have seen pictures of our past, of lynchings and slave auctions, but also of more recent times, to understand the fraught shadows that hung over this trial. And yet, we have a guilty verdict. Three of them. On all counts.

While this provides justice for George Floyd, what it means as a larger symbol is something that we cannot know at this time. Is it an inflection point, or a blip? Is it a further bending of the arc of the universe towards justice, or is it a detour? 

I have lived long enough as an optimist to cling to that lens through which to view today’s news. To be sure the system often doesn’t work, especially for Black Americans and other marginalized communities. But today, the system worked. It worked because of the bravery of the young woman, Darnella Frazier, who shot the unflinching video. It worked because of the peaceful protests in the streets. It worked because the Minneapolis Police Department made it clear that this is not who they want to be. It is rare to see a chief of police testify against a fellow officer, but Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo took to the stand and condemned the actions of Derek Chauvin as a violation of their policy, training, values and ethics. It worked because of the prosecutors and the jury.

I think you can consider today’s verdict as something that will strengthen police forces not weaken them. We need law enforcement that is accountable. We need good officers lauded and bad officers punished. We need a system that prosecutes people like Chauvin to the full extent of the law, which must apply as equally to those who wear the badge as it does to the citizens they should be serving and protecting.

We cannot wash ourselves of the sins of the past. And we cannot allow ourselves to ignore them. But we also cannot allow ourselves to lose our hope and sense of purpose. I recognize it is easy for me, with the privileges I carry, to make such a statement. So I turn for inspiration to the leaders in the past and present who fight on in hope to align the reality of America to the noblest of our founding ideals. I pray for a continued march of progress, recognizing that each step forward can only be accomplished with great grit, resilience, and determination. 

Today America took an important step. It is but one step and many more remain. It is no assurance that we will continue to stride forward in justice. But it is also a day to pause and reflect that a better, more just, more equitable America, a more perfect union for all our citizens, is indeed possible. We cannot, will not, be perfect. We can, we must be better —ever improving. Today’s verdict has made the embers of hope glow a little brighter.

—Dan

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