protester
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd on Tuesday. (Shutterstock photo)

Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. 

That truth has existed since Chauvin spent more than nine minutes with his knee on Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis last spring. And it would still be true, even if a jury hadn’t convicted Chauvin yesterday of two murder counts and a manslaughter charge. 

But the gap would have been wider between what we know, and what we live, in this country had that jury not convicted him. And we all know how many times we’ve seen that gap present itself, glare at us, and challenge us to the activism and speaking-out that has defined the worldwide movement that the murder of George Floyd has inspired. 

George Floyd was murdered.

George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. 

George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who smirked and snarled while he literally choked the life out of Floyd. 

It does feel good to be able to say that, and know that the law has acknowledged as much today. As much as it brings legal justice to this particular case, it signals an opportunity for more officers to be held accountable when they recklessly or cruelly take Black lives in America.

This is an old song that plays over and over in the nation’s ears. Police feel threatened or challenged by an African American or person of color, and they act with extreme prejudice — shooting or choking or beating that person to death. 

And the refrain goes: no charges. Or reduced charges. Or, always an outrage, an acquittal. 

It matters that this case was different. It matters that Minnesota’s highest ranking law enforcement official, attorney general Keith Ellison, made sure Chauvin would not escape culpability. And it says to other officers, just a little, that they too could be held responsible for taking lives outside of emergency contexts. 

Ellison, a Detroit native, said as much yesterday, and his words undoubtedly will ring through police stations nationwide, and — we hope — will help inspire the massive rethinking of policing that’s long overdue. 

But as much as I’m hoping that’s true, as much as I need that to be true, for my 17-year-old son, for my 15-year-old daughter, for my friends and neighbors and fellow citizens — I know how far we still have to go on this issue. 

I don’t just know it. I feel it. I feel it whenever my son drives his car to school, or to work, or to sports practice. I feel it whenever my daughter talks excitedly about her chance for mobile freedom, to be unfettered in the exploration of her city and world with a driver’s license, and a car. 

Fear. That a police officer will see them only for the color they are, and that there’s not enough restraint — internal or external — on police to hold them back from the unimaginable. 

The thing that keeps popping into my head about George Floyd today is the way that Minneapolis police first described his murder, in the first reports of it. The department said a suspect had died in a “medical incident” while being arrested. A medical incident. 

From that initial lie to this moment, it has fallen too hard, too long, on people of strong will and determination to reach for the accountability, and justice that the police were instantly trying to avoid after Chauvin killed Floyd. It was instinct, on their part, to cover, to obfuscate, to lie, in order to protect their authority to kill at will. 

Justice had to go way too far, in this case, to conquer that instinct. And this was too common a story in our nation. It is the very water in which we all swim as Americans.

Justice. Today, yes. We have it. But tomorrow? It’s not ever assured.

Stephen Henderson is the Founding Editor of BridgeDetroit, and a former writer and editor for the Detroit Free Press, Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary,...

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1 Comment

  1. At the end of August of 1998, S. Minneapolis became my new home. I have since claimed it as my adopted city and state. The first place I lived was 6 blocks form the corner of 38th and Chicago Ave. S. The last place I lived was 8 blocks down the road on Chicago Ave S. I know that corner well.

    I am an actor and moved to Minneapolis to try a different city and state in terms of theatre and film work. My last 3 1/2 years there I worked as an Actor/Trainer, helping to conduct Crisis Intervention Trainings with cops, SWAT teams, hostage negotiators, corrections officers, EMT’s…you name it. I met some amazing police officers as I traveled across the state of Minnesota. I learned their stories. Stories that came out in the trainings. Troubled stories that sometimes caused them to get up and leave the training. It is not an easy job being in law enforcement.

    Derek Chauvin on the other hand, knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. His face was expressionless. Most of the time he had his left hand in his pocket. He looked as if he was off in another world. He murdered George Floyd and did nothing to prevent it. And now he must pay the price. And the other 3 officers who stood by and did nothing will have there day in court very soon. May they all spend the better part of their lives in prison.

    Something needs to be done in our country when it comes to law enforcement. I truly believe that the good cops outnumber the bad. But there are the Derek Chauvin’s of law enforcement and they must be weeded out. If you read his profile, it says a lot about him. Much of who he is is questionable. Was he fit to be a cop?

    I don’t claim to have an answer, but I do believe there needs to be more extensive training. I believe that more qualified people need to respond to many of the calls that law enforcement officers are not equipped to handle in terms of their training. It’s too much. I also believe that corruption in police departments across the country needs to be addressed.

    Sincerely
    Tom Emmott

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