The Chauvin Verdict is Just, but it Isn’t Justice

The Chauvin Verdict is Just, but it Isn’t Justice April 20, 2021

I heard the verdict on the radio this afternoon.

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who crushed the life out of George Floyd in nine and a half agonizing minutes, has been found guilty of murder.

The country is erupting in celebration, which is a grim thing. We are so used to miscarriage of justice that we applaud when one white supremacist is served a ration of justice. We are so used to this being done with impunity that we worried that he’d be acquitted. There was a real chance he might have been. And now sensible Americans are relieved and white supremacists are offended, because one man who slowly choked another to death on camera in broad daylight is going to prison.

This is justice against Derek Chauvin, but it’s not justice for George Floyd. In justice he should be alive today, but he’s not, and we can’t bring him back.

I saw that beautiful photo of his daughter, Gianna, circulating on social media again: the one of her sitting on somebody’s shoulders at a protest. Gianna is the one who said “Daddy changed the world!” and we all shared the video approvingly.

Her father was taken away from her in the cruelest of ways, and the outrage in response to that injustice may or may not change the world.

Is that a fair price for a little girl to pay?

How many more Black men have to be brutally murdered, how many more little girls made orphans and put in front of a camera, before the world is good and changed?

People are thanking Darnella Frazier, the young woman who filmed Floyd’s murder. She was seventeen at the time and is now an adult. She testified at Chauvin’s trial just a short while ago. She talked of the fear she felt when Chauvin reached for his mace. She says that she suffered terrible shame and trauma for not physically intervening, which would have been futile. She suffers from anxiety now. Ms. Frazier has received awards for her courage– and she was very courageous. She has also experienced a great deal of harassment for posting the video, which must have been terrifying. Because of her courage, one racist policeman is going to prison. Without it, he surely would not have even gone to trial.

How many more Black teenagers have to take such a tremendous risk, and experience such impossible trauma, before the world is good and changed?

Nancy Pelosi, in an embarrassing speech that I hope will haunt her to the grave, appeared before cameras today and said “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.”

George Floyd didn’t sacrifice his life for justice. All Floyd wanted was to buy some cigarettes. The bill he used to pay for cigarettes may or may not have been counterfeit, and he may or may not have known it was counterfeit. We’ll never know if he knew. He won’t be tried in a court of law for passing a counterfeit bill. Instead, he was lynched by a racist policeman showing off for other police.

Yes, he was sacrificed, but it wasn’t for justice. America has been sacrificing Black men and women to itself, to its economy, to the plantations, to Jim Crow, to the prison industrial complex, to white supremacists hell bent on making themselves feel superior, for hundreds of years.  It’s what we do. Floyd was sacrificed, unwillingly, painfully, screaming for mercy, so Chauvin could show off. He wasn’t sacrificed for justice; he was sacrificed by Derek Chauvin to Derek Chauvin. And now Derek Chauvin is going to be punished for committing a human sacrifice. That’s not justice. In a just society, Floyd never would have been murdered. In a just society, anyone who tried to do what Chauvin did would be held accountable. Punishing police who murder would be normal. We wouldn’t be celebrating a rare guilty verdict; it would go without saying.

How many more Black men, women and children need to be sacrifice struggling and screaming, to white supremacism, before we have justice?

While Derek Chauvin was on trial, American police officers killed more than three people a day. Daunte Wright, who was unarmed, was gunned down by a police officer during a traffic stop just over a week ago; we know about that murder because it was filmed, like Floyd’s murder.

Around the time Chauvin’s verdict was being read, police officers in my hometown of Columbus gunned down a fifteen-year-old Black girl who reportedly had called them for help.

In a just society, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If someone had attempted a murder like this, his fellow officers would have stepped in and stopped him immediately. White Americans wouldn’t have required that little Gianna lose her father before we changed the world. We wouldn’t have required that Darnella Frazier put her physical and mental health in danger for our edification. No politician would have the horrendous bad taste to say that a man who was lynched really sacrificed himself. And no one else would have died at the hands of the police.

Today’s guilty verdict is a just verdict, but it isn’t justice. Not for George Floyd, not for Gianna Floyd, not for Darnella Frazier, not for America.

America is far, far from justice.




Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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