Now a nation that was holding its breath for justice can exhale.
In one of the most significant racial justice cases in U.S. history, a white Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murdering an unarmed, handcuffed Black man.
A diverse 12-member jury of Minnesotans found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Tuesday. And the image of Chauvin driving his knee into the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds is forever seared into the American and global psyche.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presided over a well-run trial, fairly allowing both the defense and prosecution to mount vigorous cases — all livestreamed for a global audience. In this milestone, racially charged case, justice was truly served.
Floyd’s death had significance far beyond the outcome of his killer’s trial. It was senseless and criminal, but it was not in vain. The May 2020 murder on a Minneapolis street sparked multiracial protests around the world, focusing new attention on decades of unfair treatment of Blacks and other people of color.
Perhaps combined with the yearlong COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate toll on Americans of color, Floyd’s death opened millions of eyes, hearts and minds to what decades of racism have wrought. Veteran activists and new allies have come together in the name of racial justice and Black Lives Matter.
The ongoing reckoning has focused not only on policing but also on disparities in housing, education, business, sports and the arts. More than ever, Americans are stepping up to view work, service and other aspects of their daily lives through the popularly dubbed “equity lens” and challenging our systems to be more inclusive and more just.
Reliving what happened last May through Chauvin’s trial helped humanize Floyd and, by extension, others who have made mistakes in their lives, including those struggling with drug addiction and chemical dependency. Americans with drug problems or previous run-ins with the law too often receive unequal treatment in our courts. That needs to change.
The trial also brought home the emotional impact of police deadly force deaths on individuals and communities. The pain resonated in the heart-wrenching testimony of Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 the day she and her 9-year-old cousin watched Floyd die.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black,” said Frazier, who recorded the cellphone video of Floyd’s death and posted it on Facebook so that it could not be ignored.
Even so, she wonders if that was enough. “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.”
The world could see and hear Frazier’s testimony because Chauvin’s trial was the first in Minnesota history to be captured live on camera. It should not be the last.
The gavel-to-gavel coverage brought a deeper understanding of what happened in the courtroom, allowing viewers to see the evidence and hear testimony of witnesses and experts. The transparency was welcome — and necessary.
Few who watched Darnella Frazier’s video will ever forget the horrendously cruel way Floyd died — pinned beneath a cop’s knee while begging for his mother, his breath and his life. Yet even before Chauvin’s trial concluded, Daunte Wright’s killing at the hands of a Brooklyn Center police officer added another video to America’s infamous collection.
It’s imperative that America take action now — not just with reforms in policing but also by creating a more just and inclusive society. We have a verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial and justice for George Floyd. Now we need lasting change and justice for all.