The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial is an historic win for the causes of police accountability, truth, and justice. While true justice would be the reconciliation of George Floyd with his family and community, this moment of accountability represents an important step forward in the fight for criminal justice reform.
Derek Chauvin’s conviction does not negate that George Floyd’s tragic killing is part of a disturbing pattern across our country of officers using excessive force against people of color that persists even after the verdict. More than 5,000 people have been killed by police since 2015, most of them unarmed people of color. This verdict also does not negate the epidemic of gun violence evident in the mass shootings we have seen in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Charleston, Newtown, Parkland, and numerous communities across the country. Whether it is an officer involved shooting or a lone gunman, people are tired and afraid, and want change…real change.
To ensure that this verdict is part of a larger movement, and not a rare moment, each one of us needs to play a part in pressing to transform our broken criminal justice system. While many may feel these issues should be addressed by legislators, local officials, or the President, the faith community is not without its responsibilities. The church, especially the Black church, has always been a beacon for justice; a beacon that is particularly needed today. What can the church do?
I call on faith leaders, congregations and community members to become Good Samaritans like Darnella Frazier (17-year-old teen bystander), Genevieve Hansen (firefighter), Kaylynn (high school senior), Keith Ellison (Minnesota Attorney General), and so many others who used their power to say something and do something to set the stage for a guilty verdict. Their exemplary conduct reminds us that we can all use our voice, our phones, and our power to fight for justice.
We can also put pressure on our elected officials to achieve change in public policies that lead to real justice. It’s time to transform the way we do community policing by passing the George Floyd Community Policing Act which eliminates qualified immunity, bans chokeholds, prohibits “no knock” warrants, and creates a nationwide police misconduct database to restore community confidence that all police officers are fair, truthful, and respect human life. We must re-double our efforts to pass comprehensive gun reform. At a minimum, we need to enact universal background checks and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act because, as Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “the ultimate weakness of violence is…instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”
If we learned anything in the fight for justice, it is that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow. It is important for us to be patient, disciplined and committed as we press for change through nonviolent resistance. While we protest, we must pray without ceasing. We must continue to pray as a corporate body. Pray for our children. Pray for our government. Pray for justice. Proverbs 21:15 tells us “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”
While yesterday’s verdict is cause for relief, joy, and even celebration it is only the first step to rooting out the systemic racism that has treated Black and Brown communities as less than. The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church joins Mr. Floyd’s family and our country in mourning his death. Together, we will work to ensure that one day, we will be able to all live in an equitable society that values all of its members. Then and only then will the senseless murder of George Floyd lead to lasting change and we’ll reach that day when “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Yours in solidarity,
Pastor Darryl D. Roberts, Ph.D.