The Jury Did Its Job; Now It’s Up to the Senate
It’s been a rough 16 months. Battered by the perfect storm of a pandemic, economic slump, invasion of the U.S. Capitol, repeated cases of police violence, and multiple mass shootings, it’s been a long time since we Americans had any good news. But we sure got some this week with the verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
There are two images we’ll never forget. First, the painful image of George Floyd pleading “I can’t breathe” 27 times during the 9 minutes and 29 seconds he lay on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck. Second, the triple-guilty Chauvin being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. They’re bookends to an event that has the potential of transforming America.
It’ll take time to assess the full meaning of the Chauvin verdict, but we know what it means for now. First, it means that Black Lives Matter has been vindicated as one of the most powerful and peaceful citizen movements in our history: the successor, and second only, to the original civil rights movement – not the violent mob Donald Trump tried to label it.
It means that police officers know, from now on, they’re not above the law. They can no longer count on being automatically defended by their police chief. Like Derek Chauvin, they can now be held accountable for abusing power, fired from their job, face criminal charges, be convicted, and sent to prison.
It means that most Americans now accept the reality of systemic racism in this country and the need to do something about it, starting with fundamental police reform. But it also means that, no matter how welcome the jury verdict was, this is only the beginning. We still have a long way to go - as evidenced by the fact that, the morning after the verdict, we saw the shooting of a black teenage girl by a white police office in Ohio.
The enormity of the challenge ahead of us is underscored by a three-fold reality check. First, the fact that the killing of unarmed black people is not getting worse, it’s just getting filmed. Without that video, George Floyd would have been just another victim of police violence with no accountability, joining the ranks of – Know their names! – Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and far too many others.
Second, the fact that were it up to his fellow officers, Derek Chauvin would never have been held accountable. The initial report of the Minneapolis Police Department read: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” Local officials then bungled the initial investigation so badly that the governor was forced to step in and order Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the case.
Third, the fact that Chauvin would still never have been charged with murder without the courage of 14 people who just happened to be passing by, saw what was happening, knew it was wrong, and begged Chauvin to stop. None more important than teenager Darnella Frazier, who recorded the entire episode on her cellphone and uploaded it to Facebook.
Fortunately, the jury weighed the evidence, believed their eyes and made the right decision. A decision that came too late to save George Floyd’s life, but may just save this country – if only we seize this moment to act. We can’t stop now.
The jury did its job, now it’s up to the U.S. Senate. The House already approved (with not one Republican vote) the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds, end “qualified immunity” for police officers, and create national standards for policing. This is a pro-police bill, an absolutely necessary first step toward police reform. It demands bipartisan support in the Senate. If ever there was a time to put politics aside, it’s now. But even that’s not enough.
The jury did its job, now it’s also up to each one of us to do whatever we can in our own lives to end systemic racism in this country: demand change in local police departments, join peaceful protests, put pressure on elected officials, support black-owned businesses, let our African-American friends and neighbors know their lives do matter, make this issue a priority. We each have a role to play.
The difference is, we can now act having just experienced a profound moment of justice. Sadly, George Floyd will never breathe again, but now America can. Thanks to a jury in Minneapolis, Americans can breathe again – and get to work.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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