Reflecting on the Chauvin Verdict One Week Later
Last week the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial reached its verdict. Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the murder of George Floyd last May. Unlike other cases involving police use of force, this trial didn't raise any complex legal questions. It didn't involve a split-second decision to use a weapon. Chauvin held Floyd pinned against the pavement long after he had stopped resisting in any way, slowly killing him. The case didn't call into question methods of training police either. Officers testified during the trial that Chauvin's actions went against his training. Chauvin's own defense couldn't even justify his actions, instead trying to argue for the possibility that Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 10 minutes wasn't the direct cause of death. The jury found this defense unconvincing and needed only 10 hours of deliberation before finding Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. While George Floyd's murder highlighted important issues concerning policing and racism in the United States and sparked worldwide protests, the trial itself was very straight-forward. A police officer slowly killed a man in broad daylight, while bystanders begged him to stop with one recording the entire crime.
However, the current media can't simply agree on how to cover a story. There always needs to be at least some controversy. With the Derek Chauvin trial, that controversy came from the coverage of the protests surrounding it. Here are the headlines from the past week about George Floyd Square, the name given to the location where he was murdered and the site of protests since. Left-wing sources only wrote about people celebrating the verdict. On the other hand, right-wing sources focused on protesters continuing to stay in George Floyd Square after the verdict was announced and demanding further actions. I guess they were surprised that one police officer being held accountable hasn't fixed 400 years of history. Another story only covered on the right was that the protesters posted a set of rules for people who enter George Floyd Square, including certain ones directed towards white people. These articles really illustrate the backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement. White males have held power throughout the United States' history. Among many other things, this has meant that they set the societal norms. Here, black protesters have established a set of norms to be followed on one street corner, and it apparently requires national news coverage. This is only a story because those who currently hold power in this society are unwilling to share even a tiny bit of it.
The outrage over some of the protesters' rules being specifically for white people is also misplaced. It makes sense that there would be different expectations for white people who join the protest because people of different races experienced George Floyd's murder differently. As a white man, I was horrified by this murder, but I never felt threatened by it. I never felt like I could be George Floyd. I find police officers to be intimidating and generally want to avoid interacting with them, but I don't view them as a threat. However, history, including recent years, has taught black people in the United States to view police as just that. The police sprayed civil rights activists with hoses only 60 years ago; the police brutally beat Rodney King and suffered no consequences only 30 years ago; the police killed Tamir Rice for playing with a toy only 6 years ago. The lesson I learned from Charlottesville is that when someone or something you view as a threat causes a traumatic event in the world, you feel it differently. Video of Neo-Nazis chanting "Jews will not replace us" both horrified me AND felt like a personal attack. Here were people who wanted to harm people like me. When former-President Trump then avoided denouncing alt-right groups, instead somehow equating them with counter-protesters, I felt less safe in my own country. But, people who aren't Jewish must not have felt the same threat I did. If they had, Donald Trump would have received far fewer votes in the 2020 election than he did. So, black protesters expecting extra consideration from white people who join them isn't unfair. It's simply an acknowledgement that history causes us to experience the world differently. This isn't a request for special treatment; it's a call for empathy.