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OPINION

We knew Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. But Black people never expect justice

In a jury’s guilty verdict, a small step toward accountability.

People celebrate as the verdict is announced in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd in a case that roiled the United States for almost a year, laying bare deep racial divisions.
People celebrate as the verdict is announced in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd in a case that roiled the United States for almost a year, laying bare deep racial divisions.CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Derek Chauvin is a convicted murderer.

George Floyd should still be here. Yet in the space left when he was taken from this world last May, let his loved ones find some modicum of the justice that was denied Emmett Till, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and countless other Black people killed in a country that rarely values our lives.

After his conviction on all charges, ranging from second-degree murder to second-degree manslaughter, Chauvin had his bail revoked and he was remanded into custody to await sentencing. And in the streets outside the courtroom where a jury delivered justice — something so many couldn’t believe would come even as we watched the police officer murder Floyd — people cheered, hugged, and prayed.

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We have this moment only because of the extraordinary profile in courage that is Darnella Frazier, the teenager who shot the video that became the most compelling evidence against Chauvin. In the dimming light of a busy street last Memorial Day, she captured the last moments of Floyd’s life ebbing away under Chauvin’s knee. Floyd begged for mercy, called for his dead mother, told the beloved woman who bore him that he loved her. And he told Chauvin, again and again, that he could not breathe.

The brutality, the inhumanity was undeniable, and it speaks volumes that, until that guilty verdict was rendered, so many Black people struggled to believe that justice would not again escape our grasp.

What Chauvin did to Floyd was so egregious, even the blue line of silence that has long bound police departments shifted ever so slightly. Several officers, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, testified against Chauvin. Of course, it was also to their benefit to do so — they needed to distance themselves from the monster with a badge who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Any public defense of Chauvin would have condoned his actions.

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That’s also why police commissioners nationwide were so quick to condemn Chauvin. With deadly police tactics under scrutiny, there was simply no room for any comment that equivocated or justified Floyd’s murder.

Of course, I don’t doubt that there are police officers who see this verdict as a strike against all police. Anyone who watched Floyd’s excruciating death and can call it anything except murder has no business pretending they’re protecting and serving anything beyond their own twisted belief in the unchecked power of their badge.

What should not be forgotten is the grief of the Floyd family, which they will bear until they see their loved one again. Shortly before the verdict, CNN’s Sara Sidner spoke to Philonise Floyd, George’s brother. She said he told her that whatever the verdict means to the public, it remains “deeply, deeply personal for every single member of the Floyd family. He said, ‘For us, this is our heart that is being affected in ways that no one can imagine.’”

While this verdict serves justice, it cannot rectify so many decades of racist policing. It should not quell every impassioned demand for a massive rethinking of how police departments interact with the communities they have sworn to serve. It is not the end of police violence, the disproportionate killings of Black and brown people, or the dangerous groupthink that too often accepts the police version of events as the truth. The fight to eradicate state violence, and the systems that sustain it, goes on.

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In 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley requested an open casket at the funeral of her only child, Emmett. Though he was horribly disfigured, she wanted the world to see what two white men did to him. It took an all-white jury only 67 minutes to acquit those men who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered her 14-year-old son in Mississippi.

More than 60 years later, the world saw what Chauvin did to Floyd. But this time, that pain was answered with relief and accountability. It cannot erase all this country has inflicted on Black people, but it is a fragile step toward justice deserved, but too long unrealized.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.