Earlier this week, jurors in Minnesota found former policeman Derek Chauvin guilty of three homicide charges for his role in George Floyd’s death. This, of course, has been well documented by almost every major and minor news outlet in the United States, and the general feeling of the country seems to be one of relief. It appears that most folks believe the jury’s verdict was just and right. Chauvin will be sentenced on June 16, and apparently can serve anywhere from 11 to 40 years in prison.
In the meantime, there have been other violent events involving police, including the shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Ohio. LeBron James faced criticism after tweeting “YOU’RE NEXT” about the Ohio policeman who shot and killed Ms. Bryant. But I am, foolishly or not, hoping that the Chauvin verdict is the signal of a new normal.
The New Normal?
As recently as 2019, it was estimated that one out of every thousand Black men will be killed by police. One out of every thousand. One out of every thousand. That means that death-by-cop is the sixth leading cause of death for young Black men. And that’s just homicide by police. There are plenty of other young Black men who are killed by non-police. It’s a shameful statistic.
But perhaps we’ve turned a bit of a corner as a society. Police being held accountable is a good thing. Now, please don’t mistake my meaning here. I’m not saying every policeman who shoots a young Black man is a murderer. There are countless police-involved shootings every year that are objectively justifiable as self-defense or defense of others. But that doesn’t mean we should completely discount the shootings that are unjustified.
Every criminal is entitled to due process and a trial. These are precious rights preserved and protected in the United States Constitution and the constitutions of each state, as well. If George Floyd had not been killed, he would have, theoretically, gotten the opportunity to get a lawyer and prepare his defense for trial. Derek Chauvin got that right after he killed George Floyd. In many ways Derek Chauvin was on trial for being a state actor who improperly denied George Floyd his rights to trial and due process.
In an age where bipartisanship is rare, it was nice to see how many people all across the political spectrum agreed with the jury’s decision in the Chauvin trial. If we can keep people engaged in their communities and in tune with what’s going on around them, maybe we can begin to hold more police accountable. Likewise, if a police officers across the country start seeing more of their police brethren being held accountable, it seems likely they would be willing to change tactics and be more conscientious of the repercussions of doing things the wrong way such that nonviolent options are more fully exhausted before service pistols are drawn.
I’m no fool. I know that there will continue to be bad apples. There will be bad cops, bad criminals, bad lawyers, bad judges, bad politicians (if there were any good ones to begin with), bad bystanders, bad media personalities, etc. But if the good of those groups will hold the bad ones accountable for their actions, then there will be fewer bad ones, eventually.
And I am all for celebrating a criminal being brought to justice, but there is another thing we should remain conscious of: In addition to George Floyd’s life, Derek Chauvin ruined his own life, his family’s life, perhaps some other officers’ lives, and, of course, the life of people who were close to George Floyd. No matter how good the instant of karma feels, nothing will bring George Floyd back.
We should be hoping for fewer police-involved violent acts. But for that to happen, the bad cops have to be held accountable. All cops have to be held accountable. It won’t happen overnight, but I am choosing to be optimistic that the Chauvin verdict is the first step towards a new normal where objective good and objective bad are nonpartisan issues, and accountability for police and all government employees is prioritized.