Black Americans are among the nation’s most patriotic, advocating for the country at every turn to be better, and do better. To live up to its ideals. Put some action behind its words. That’s why I can’t fault anyone who saw Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict as a signal that the country was ready to finally be a land of the free and embrace change.
I completely understand, and even find joy, in watching jubilant reactions to the announcement of the jury’s decision. I empathize with the pain and the impulse to proclaim a rare victory in this centuries old battle. I joined the collective Black American sigh of relief, because so many times, we’ve seen verdicts like this go the other way around.
I see the warmth of the George Floyd family, as I watch them hold each other close and feel the validation that their son’s life mattered. And I see their pain, knowing they will never see him again.
It’s been an emotionally taxing fight that we will all process in different ways. Count me amongst those who are having a tough time being celebratory after the Chauvin verdict. Maybe you can relate.
I respectfully disagree with Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump’s declaration that “today is a better America.” The April 20 verdict does nothing to change my reality as a Black man in America on April 21. It doesn’t do away with the mental gymnastics we must go through when getting pulled over by police on April 22. It doesn’t take away “the talk” you must have with your son or daughter, niece or nephew the next week. It doesn’t erase the respectability you have to perform around the police next month. When it comes to a lethal system, days, weeks and months are precious time.
We are still reeling from the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Two hours before the Chauvin verdict came down in Minnesota, a 15-year-old girl was fatally shot by police in Columbus, Ohio. Her name was Ma’Khia Bryant, and details are still emerging about her death.
James Baldwin famously talked about America as a burning house, with fire looking to consume Black and brown bodies. One spark has been put out, but many flames still remain. And, sadly, more are likely to come.
I don’t want the country to get complacent. I worry that the wave of people who posted their black squares on Instagram will see this as one bad apple who got their rightful punishment, seeing no reason to work any further on the tree or the soil from which it grows. As Trevor Noah so brilliantly explained, the tree is rotten. Policing must be reimagined and reformed.
President Joe Biden called the verdict “a much too rare outcome.” That statement by an American president is a direct acknowledgement of the nation’s record of not keeping police accountable for their actions. Now that we know he recognizes the problem, it’s on him and elected leaders to fix it. It’s up to federal and state legislatures, mayors, attorney generals, judges and more to make substantive change to our police system. The organizing has been done, and will continue on the ground. But the ball is in their court. They have to make a play.
Some have described the Chauvin trial as a litmus test for the soul of America. The real test is after the verdict. I pray we can make the grade.