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The Shapiro Report

The Chauvin Verdict: Vigilance & tears

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Eric Shapiro

April 20, 2021

The Chauvin Verdict: Vigilance & tears

Let it out.

That’s what this night is about. Let it out. Shed your tears. Bask in the feeling of relief, however fleeting and brief, along with the rare witness of justice.

That’s what tonight can be about. (If just tonight.)

The jury trial of the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin concluded today with the jury finding Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder (for which he faces up to 40 years in prison), third-degree murder (25 years), and second-degree manslaughter (10 years) for killing George Floyd before video cameras and multiple eyewitnesses in May of 2020.

The tension throughout the trial and particularly leading up to the verdict was acute and suffocating. Cities braced themselves for protests. Black communities defaulted to a familiar numbness, steeling themselves against the inevitable disappointment while keeping a dry, sober eye on the faint, elusive possibility of justice.

When the jury came back, around the world, that eye went wet.

The ice of numbness became the water of emotion. It flows now in the streets across our country, where people dance, sing, and pound on the drums.

To emote is not to let your guard down. To emote is not to perceive a lasting peace. To emote is not to neglect to remember the loss of George Floyd, which is petrifyingly permanent and total.

But to emote is to refresh our energy. To emote is to allow for things to flow. And to emote is to acknowledge that though it took the whole world — protesting against, criticizing, scrutinizing, and expressing an outright intolerance of racial injustice, to the point where our new president took the radical step of vowing in his inauguration speech to end the same — and though it took an act of monumental brutality, with Chauvin having kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds — justice is possible, hope is not unreasonable, and the system actually has the ability to check itself.

That is the key here: the trial of Chauvin was unique insofar as how many of his colleagues in law enforcement took to the witness stand to speak out forcefully against him, rejecting his behavior and lambasting his utter absence of integrity and basic professionalism. Usually, per the old script, not only does the system let its murderous officers walk, it fails to produce other officers who are willing to speak such damning testimony.

That changed here. And the change hints at the promise of another kind of cop, at once new and preexisting—the cop as protector, cop as truth-teller, cop as neighborhood guardian and even force for good.

One can dream, then, this night, of a predominance of decent and grounded cops, in temperament not unlike firefighters or airline pilots, and equipped with new tools of both body and mind, the better to heal and deescalate rather than to issue tension and harm.

The road is long. The system, devastatingly, remains unchanged. And it’s a shame that it took such a horrid and extraordinary—and public—act of violence to unify an American jury against a police officer. Shameful too are all the murders yet to come at the hands of police. Meanwhile, earlier today: Makiyah Bryant. And last week: Daunte Wright. And last month: Adam Toledo. And years prior: countless others, the majority of their deaths not videotaped, and their murders no doubt covered up as the narrative was owned and shaped by law enforcement.

History, it is said, is a book written by the winners. But with the advent and mass implementation of police body cams, the “winners” no longer get to own the narrative. The story gets articulated through the lenses of the cameras, illuminating the urgent need for justice for the fallen, the countless unarmed Black and brown human beings who face unceremonious execution on the part of the state for minor everyday infractions.

The images will continue to come and shock. The harsh history shall continue to unfold. And the system will continue to be subject to debate, with its defenders citing patriotic, masculine traditionalism while its amenders, or reformers, call for outright revolution or at least renewal. And the numbness will return (and for many it already has) and the headlines will cry and the family members of the lost will withdraw into haunted, broken lives.

Tonight, though, just for a little while, we can allow ourselves to glance the other way. Not away from the horror, about which we must remain vigilant, but toward the future, about which we are allowed to feel a measure of faith.

The truth is ascending. The world is changing. The injustice is at long last being seen and heard and known.

Cry, then. Let it out, if just for now. For injustice, although it shall always remain, does at times and at turns get struck down by its holy opposite.

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