*“Well, that’s enough guilty for me,” said my buddy after the second “guilty.” He mumbled it almost to himself, with the kind of anxiety-glazed glee a nervous sports fanatic exudes when he or she knows that even with their team up by a sliver of a point and less than a minute left in the game, anything could happen, still.
He and I had decided to watch reading of the Derek Chauvin verdict together, via phone, for emotional support, should the jury’s decision require it. We were satisfied that two guilty verdicts would be enough to keep Chauvin in prison for a while.
It was the third “guilty” that brought it all home for me. I felt my shoulders drop as I released a sigh of relief so long it rivaled the tail of Haley’s comet. It was an exhale from the depths of my hopeful but ever-doubting spirit, a result of stress I carried ever since witnessing the horrific footage of George Floyd’s whole life being snuffed out.
Talk about a peculiarity. I’d never felt the sensation of unadulterated justice that came over me immediately after the verdict. Chauvin’s dire legal fate felt just the opposite for me…like an edict acknowledging my personal worth, not to be denied, for once, by cultural divides, political shenanigans or the customary shameless legal sleight of hand.
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White people, I thought at that moment, must experience this feeling all the time. Then I remembered that whites getting what they want in this country is not an anomaly. They’re used to having life go their way.
And then my mind went to this: To be convicted of unjustly and methodically murdering a Black man, a white police officer had to 1) commit the crime in broad daylight, 2) be witnessed by many people on the scene, 3) be captured on video tape, 4) from many angles, 5) including the police officer’s own body-cam (that’s how secure Chauvin was in his brazenness), and 6) be seen by the whole wide world, which 7) globally responded in shock, anger and public protests. It took all of that to get this man convicted of murder.
Sadly, America’s centuries-long oppression of people of color has kept us so perennially thirsty, so accustomed to not getting an equal shake, that we can interpret the Chauvin verdict–the conviction of one bad cop while so many others go unpunished–as a victory. On some level, it is. Because of it, this time the usual exasperated calls for police reform are being met with substantial, real legislature. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, killings haven’t ceased. Indeed, within 24 hours of the Chauvin decision, across the country at least six people of color were fatally shot by law enforcement. As you read this, murders continue.
Remarkably, as police bullets fly and illegal chokeholds proceed, politicians at courthouses and state capitols across the nation openly create and push for laws designed to make it harder for Black Americans to vote.
It is against this sinister backdrop that Tim Scott, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, a Black man, recently stood on national television and declared there is no racism in America. An amazing, surreal assessment, but not surprising when you consider the source.
Yet, none of this has stopped me from remembering how the reading of that verdict made me feel. Sure, it was only a matter of minutes before reality reared its head. However, inside that brief, golden period, I felt completely validated. Free.
Every American deserves that feeling, and for longer than a few precious moments.
Steven Ivory, journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Reach him at [email protected]