Political Issues

The Verdict in Derek Chauvin’s Trial Highlights the Painful Difference Between Justice and Accountability

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Stocksy / RZCREATIVE / Getty Images / Pixhook / W+G Creative
After 10 hours of deliberation, 12 jurors found Derek Chauvin—the ex-police officer who knelt on George Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes—guilty on counts of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The verdict is exceptional, an exceedingly rare event. And almost immediately upon its reading, it highlighted the key differences between accountability and justice.

Following Chauvin's conviction, President Barack Obama issued a statement Tuesday evening to make this point. "Today, a jury did the right thing. But true justice requires much more," he wrote. "Michelle and I send our prayers to the Floyd family, and we stand with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied."

In the attached statement, Obama noted that "true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial."

"While today's verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one," he wrote. "We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system."

Sen. Bernie Sanders further explained the difference between justice and accountability in a series of tweets. "The jury's verdict delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd," he wrote. "Real justice for him and too many others can only happen when we build a nation that fundamentally respects the human dignity of every person."

Vice President Kamala Harris said the verdict cannot undo the pain caused by the murder of George Floyd and that of many others like him. "[T]he verdict will not heal pain that has existed for generations," wrote Harris. "It will not take away the pain felt by the Floyd family. That’s why we must recommit to fight for equal justice."

In a later tweet, Harris urged the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act "to hold law enforcement everywhere to the highest standards of accountability and help build trust between law enforcement and our communities." The House of Representatives passed the act on March 3 in a vote of 220-212, but the legislation failed to advance in the Senate, where it needed 60 votes to proceed. The act would work to end racial and religious profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and make it easier to prosecute offending officers in court, among other reforms.

Chauvin's conviction also serves as a reminder of how many other families didn't get any resolution when their loved ones were killed by police, and how many won't if the work doesn't continue, says author Austin Channing Brown.

"I’m having a lot of mixed emotions right now. I hope Floyd’s family feels some sense of relief for sure. I’m also very aware of how many Black families didn’t get this verdict," wrote Brown. "I’m a little overwhelmed by all that it took to get this conviction—the tape, the unanimous witnesses determined not to be knocked off by the defense, the global protests, the 10 years leading up to this moment. I’m still afraid—I’m still afraid of police, still gonna teach my son what to do during a police encounter, still gonna be afraid my husband, father, myself could be next."

Shortly before the jury reached a guilty verdict in Minneapolis, officers in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot Ma’khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl who had called 911 for help. Her aunt told reporters that she had a knife to protect herself from her aggressors. Bryant alleged lunged at two women with a knife before police opened fire, striking her in the chest.

"I’m really upset that the media is already laying the groundwork for dismissing Ma’khia’s death," Brown wrote in a subsequent post. "If police can arrest mass shooters with assault rifles, they can arrest a 16-year-old girl with a knife."

Rep. Cori Bush reminds us that the Black Lives Matter movement isn't about verdicts, it's about lives. "Our hope is that this verdict will be a small step towards accountability. But that’s just about accountability, not justice," wrote Bush in a tweet. "For us, justice would be George Floyd alive today."

 

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