The hope, after the guilty verdict in George Floyd’s death, is that it is a major step in the evolution of social justice. That is the hope.
First published in April 2021.
Just as the Derek Chauvin case seemed open and closed to millions of us around the world – thanks to Darnella Frazier’s video of the murder – it apparently was just as open and closed to the jury. Thanks, no doubt, to Ms Frazier’s video, as well.
The verdict was reassuring, finally, that a successful case can be put together against an arrogant cop whose view is that he is the judge and jury. Chauvin will go to prison for many years, an ex-cop who killed a Black man in a population of men who won’t be very accepting of him, to say the least.
The jury considered three complicated charges in fewer than 10 hours, indicating there wasn’t much, if any, debate about Chauvin’s guilt. And that, too, is reassuring, I hope, to a black and brown population in America who aren’t used to coming out with justice in such cases.
People tend to give cops the benefit of the doubt when someone dies at their hands. This case was different, though. We all watched as Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck – for nearly 10 minutes – until Mr. Floyd stopped breathing.
Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family of George Floyd, said, “Days like this don’t happen” as he pointed out the obvious – it shouldn’t be so difficult to convict the perpetrator of this crime.
Apparently it wasn’t. And that is thanks to not only a strong case put on by the prosecution but also the key piece of evidence – a 9-minute-29-second video recorded by Ms Frazier, the 17-year-old witness to the murder and brave young lady who recorded the piece of video viewed ‘round the world.
The verdict not only provides justice for the Floyd family – though is there any justice when a family member is murdered? – it also should put in the head of any other bad cops, one hopes, a second thought whenever they are responsible for anyone in their custody, especially black or brown people. When you are taken into custody by law enforcement the last thing you should worry about is whether you will die from the experience, but that is the world black and brown people live in every day.
That’s why those parents have to have “the talk” with their children to not give any cop a reason to be violent with you – putting the responsibility for courteousness on their children rather than on the cops, and understandably so.
As an attorney who typically represents policemen said, “Without that video, this may have all turned out very differently.” Truer words were never spoken. Especially since the original version of the incident put out by police was far different than the truth.
A nation on the brink of another night of violence and brutality instead enjoyed a night of celebration and joy. Justice indeed was done, for a change.
Chauvin’s lawyer argued that it was a raucous crowd that distracted Chauvin, putting his focus on the crowd rather than on his knee on Floyd’s neck. That raucous crowd Chauvin’s lawyer imagined was a dozen or so people who never threatened law enforcement that day. There is video of them too.
They did beg Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck. They called for reason and logic.
And, they recorded Chauvin choking the life out of George Floyd. Floyd wasn’t a threat. He was handcuffed and compliant except for that moment the police tried to force him into a squad car and he fought out of fear and anxiety over being in such a small place. As the defense did argue, Floyd indeed was a big man. But he was a big man who was compliant. Who never swore at the officers. Who thrashed out of anxiety when they tried to push him into the car.
He never swore, he only begged.
But whatever imagined “super human” strength Chauvin’s lawyer claimed, apparently wasn’t sufficient to push Chauvin off of Floyd as he lay there dying in the street. Why? Because Floyd had no superhuman strength. Yes he was a big man but he was about as compliant as a suspect could be in police custody. We saw that on the tape too.
The hope is the verdict is a major step in the evolution of social justice. That is the hope. The verdict and findings of the jury give supporters of social justice a big argument in their favor. In normal times (meaning pre- the last 20 years or so) maybe that would lead to significant changes to our laws and mores. With each incident we have lived through, we have always though that though.
Unfortunately it isn’t likely to be a swift change despite a President who wants to see that change and for a huge chunk of the country who agrees with him.
Justice definitely existed yesterday. The question is, will it exist equally tomorrow?
▫ B. Jay Cooper, former deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
- B. Jay Cooper is the author of Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet | The Lyons Press
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[This piece was originally published in The Screaming Moderate and re-published in PMP Magazine on 21 April 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Derek Johnson. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)