April 23, 2021

Celebrate the Chauvin Verdict But Be Realistic About What it Means

gavel

Suppose for a minute that you parked your car in the parking lot of a local store and went inside to do some shopping. When you exit the store and arrive at the space you parked in, you discover that your car has been completely destroyed. It looks like someone packed it full of high explosives and detonated it. There are mangled pieces all over the place. Standing there dumbfounded, you spot one single lug nut from one of your wheels. It seems to be the only thing still in tact. You pick it up and began wildly celebrating. Your car was essentially vaporized, but you have a lug nut! Hallelujah!

This is what seeing people celebrating the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin makes me think of. It isn't that the outcome was bad; it was unexpectedly positive. I completely understand the urge to celebrate what looks like an unfortunately rare bit of accountability. The problem is that doing so feels too much like finding that lug nut and forgetting what happened to the car.

I've seen plenty of wild speculation about how this is the beginning of the end of police misconduct. It isn't. We know it isn't. It isn't like this is the first time a police officer has been held accountable. As rare as it seems, it does occasionally happen. And these isolated events haven't resulted in the kind of change we desperately need. I have absolutely no doubt that we will continue to see abuses of power, including more murders of unarmed black citizens by white officers. And I have absolutely no doubt that most of those involved will not be convicted. I say this because we haven't solved any of the problems leading to this sort of thing yet.

It was good to see Chauvin convicted, but I think that is mostly because it was so unexpected. And as good as it was, it would be far better if George Floyd and so many others were still alive. We need to come to terms with why Chauvin was on trial in the first place. We need to rise up and say "enough is enough." We cannot allow this to keep happening. These are our friends and neighbors, and they deserve a hell of a lot better than having to fear that they will be murdered by those do are supposed to "protect and serve" all of us and not just the white one's of us. Like everything else in the United States, this has become an intensely polarized political issue. That makes me pessimistic that we will do much about it, but I think we have to. And those of us who think we have to are going to need to get louder and more persistent in our demands. And yes, we're also going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.