Ten days have passed since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The commentary since the verdict has focused on three things. First, whether justice was served. Second, whether this is a single moment in time or evidence Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And third, whether testimony of senior leadership in the Minneapolis police department against Chauvin now gives the overwhelming majority of decent, dedicated law enforcement officers new license to speak out when one of their own acts outside the law, department policy or their training.
Let’s be honest. Yes, the Floyd family called for peaceful protests and told those who looted and set fires they dishonored Floyd’s memory. But the atmosphere surrounding mass assemblies of justifiably angry and frustrated individuals creates an environment in which violence and destruction, though not inevitable, becomes more likely. Sometimes it is simply the result of those participating in peaceful dissent being caught up in the moment. In any protest, the fuel is there. And all it takes is one stupid act by one individual to produce the spark.
In other instances, the perpetrators are opportunists who see a Black Lives Matter protest as a façade to commit crimes with little or no interest in the underlying reason for a demonstration. It is the street version of “any excuse for a party,” except the “celebration” ends in property destruction and injury instead of hangovers and random accumulations of vomit.
However, the lasting impact of the Chauvin verdict may have less to do with justice for George Floyd than it has on responses to subsequent instances where the use of excessive and deadly force is at issue. One need look no further than the six fatal shootings by police within 24 hours of the Chauvin verdict, five of which involved persons of color. Each involves very different situations and needs to be looked at separately. Even in the case of Andrew Brown, Jr., where reluctance by Elizabeth City, North Carolina officials to share the unredacted body cam video with the public, much less with the Brown family, there have been protests without the attendant violence or destruction associated with previous marches.
All of which leads me to the conclusion the single most significant winner in the debate over police reform and criminal justice is…PATIENCE. Remember, George Floyd died on Memorial Day 2020. It took almost 11 months before Derek Chauvin was lead out of the courtroom in handcuffs. In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, the looting and property destruction took place simultaneously with the first protest marches immediately after the release of Darnella Frazier’s video.
Consider the difference between May 2020 and today. Last year, the debate on how to stem social unrest was reactive, centering on the appropriate level of deployment of more law enforcement and the national guard. “Law and order” advocates on the right wanted us to believe protesters and rioters were one and the same. These issues have not been necessary the past ten days despite the continued instances of fatal police shootings.
Why? Maybe the root cause of the metamorphosis of protests into riots was never about the circumstances of any individual event but a lack of belief in a system of law enforcement and criminal justice. The Black Lives Matter has sent a powerful message to members of Congress over the past week and a half. If you really want to curb violent and destructive social unrest, the best way to do that is passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It will reinforce and institutionalize the level playing field that existed in the Hennepin County courtroom during the Chauvin trial. A playing field on which we are willing to wait because we know the facts and the law can prevail. The question, as always, “Will they listen?”
Open letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy:
Look at the following pictures and please explain why you think there is no difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
Attorney Ben Crump and families of victims of deadly police force came to the Capitol yesterday to encourage passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Insurrectionists storm the Capitol on January 6th to interrupt certification of the 2020 electoral vote.
It is time for an independent commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol and the underlying causes. Do not delay its creation by making false equivalencies about the motivation and scope of these very different events.
I anxiously await your response as I lack the patience of the Floyd and Brown families.