The celebration of the guilty verdict handed down earlier this week against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should not be about race.
It’s about simple accountability.
Yes, Chauvin brutally killed George Floyd — a Black man — last year. And the race factor played into this high-profile case because it was one in a long line of cases in which police have used questionable tactics against people of color.
And through all of these tragic incidents we have become woefully divided.
There is a segment of the population that will defend law enforcement under any circumstances. I’ve even seen a few defend Chauvin. And Chauvin’s actions, that led to the death of a man who was handcuffed and helpless, was one of the most blatant examples of police brutality I have ever seen.
It’s understandable that people want to believe police officers are inherently good. These men and women put their lives on the line each and every day. But there are bad police officers just like there are bad politicians, bad journalists and bad bankers. There are bad people in every profession or line of work.
On the other hand, there is another segment of the population that jumps into attack posture every time there is a police-involved incident — especially if a Black person is involved. There is the immediate assumption that the police officer was at fault ... and that racism was involved.
Sometimes, as in the case of Derek Chauvin, the police officer is at fault. But not always.
These incidents are all different and it’s not fair to jump to conclusions before you know all of the facts. It’s best not to assume anything.
In the case of Chauvin and Floyd, however, the case was pretty cut and dried.
Yes, Floyd did resist early on as the incident unfolded. And, yes, had he not resisted initially, he might still be alive.
Some are quick to point out George Floyd’s transgressions. Yes, he had been arrested a total of nine times — the most serious charge was robbery with a deadly weapon in which he reportedly pointed a gun at a pregnant woman’s stomach.
Floyd was no angel. He’s not the type of person you’d want coaching your kids in youth sports. And he should not be held up as some sort of hero.
But just because you’re a lifetime criminal — and just because you’ve resisted arrest — does not mean you deserve a penalty of death, carried out by a police officer in the middle of the street.
While Chauvin likely did not intend to kill Floyd, by kneeling on his neck for five ... six ... seven ... eight .... nine minutes while onlookers begged him to relent, he most certainly did end his life. And for that, Chauvin deserves to go to prison.
Not because George Floyd was Black. Not because Chauvin is white.
Chauvin was reckless and cruel — and those are two things a police officer cannot be. He should be held accountable for what he did.
This jury got it right.
What does this verdict mean? It’s obvious now that police officers who are out to abuse their power — or are simply inept — won’t be given a pass. Many people feared Chauvin would walk away unscathed simply because he wears a uniform. Thanks to this jury, that ship has sailed — and that could mean a safer environment for Black people when they cross paths with law enforcement.
But this guilty verdict will not mend everything. It’s a start for sure. But more work needs to be done.
There has to be a better relationship between law enforcement and people of color. Law enforcement diversity training, rethinking police tactics and recruitment all could be factors in improving those relations.
And through it all, let’s please remember that Derek Chauvin is NOT representative of most police officers. For every Chauvin, there are thousands of decent men and women who work hard day and night to protect our communities.
Let’s support those good police officers. But when there’s a bad one who breaks the law he is sworn to uphold, let’s make him accountable for his actions — just as the jury in Minnesota did this week.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at email@example.com.