Real Justice Shouldn’t Be This Difficult
COMMENTARY

April 20, 2021 by Leonard Pitts
People react to the news of a guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

I sat there trying to remember how to breathe.

I suspect I had that in common with people — particularly African-American people — all over the country. Didn’t we all hold our breath as we awaited the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin?

Then that verdict was read. The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty on all three counts in the death of George Floyd and was promptly handcuffed and led off to jail. On television, people shouted and prayed, cranking their fists toward heaven. I just sat there, trying to remember how lungs are supposed to work.

And thinking that justice — real justice — shouldn’t be this difficult. In a nation that was not broken along seams of race, a nation where you could trust the police to actually protect and serve no matter the color of your skin, Chauvin’s conviction would have been a foregone conclusion. But in this nation, it was anything but. That’s why I forgot to breathe. And why, after the verdict, what I felt was less exultation than simply relief.

An American court did right by an African-American man. For a change.

You might, if you are innocent or ignorant of American history, wonder what the fuss is about. After all, the evidence of Chauvin’s crime was compelling and overwhelming, cellphone video that showed him kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed and unresisting man for nine and a half minutes while Floyd pleaded and cried. Bystanders begged Chauvin to stop and he faced them with an expression of malevolent nonchalance as if to convey that he was in charge here — his badge gave him that authority — and he would do with this black body what he damn well pleased. As indeed, he did.

So you may, in innocence or ignorance, wonder how there could have been any doubt of this outcome. But see, they also had pictures in 1930 when Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were killed in Marion, Indiana. They had pictures of Rubin Stacy in Fort Lauderdale in 1935. They had confessions of kidnapping when Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, had video when Rodney King was beaten to pieces in 1991. More video when Tamir Rice was shot in 2014. And Philando Castile in 2016. And Terence Crutcher, also in 2016. And no one was ever held accountable for any of those killings — or for literally thousands just like them.

Point being, there is nothing new about compelling, overwhelming evidence. But such evidence has seldom been a match for America’s refusal to know or its stubborn disregard of Black lives.

So what was different this time?

Maybe it’s that this video was particularly excruciating. Maybe it was recognition that the eyes of the world were upon us. Whatever it was, it led to a verdict for which we can only be grateful.

But did it lead to change? Did something heavy just shift in the psyche of a nation? Will African Americans henceforth know a new form of justice, one that is not spotty or hit-and-miss, but that, in the words of the prophet Amos, rolls down like waters?

If would be nice to believe that. But if one is not innocent or ignorant of America, one cannot help but recall all the times belief has gone begging, all the times promise has lied. One is tempered by memory of Trayvon, Breonna and so many others who never knew justice.

Maybe that sounds cynical to you. But these last years have been traumatizing and besides, I am a Black man in America.

So I’m also sitting here trying to remember how to hope.

©2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In The News

Health

Voting

Opinions

Fossil Fuel Investments in Africa are Necessary for Economic Growth and Climate Resiliency
Opinions
Fossil Fuel Investments in Africa are Necessary for Economic Growth and Climate Resiliency

The Biden Administration has made climate change one of its core policy priorities. Understanding the global nature of the problem, as well as U.S. leadership in technology exports and international markets, the reality of the crisis demands that we confront global warming emissions both abroad and... Read More

What Biden Is Doing on the Other Viral Pandemic
Opinions
What Biden Is Doing on the Other Viral Pandemic

Memorial Day Weekend will be the first time millions of Americans have traveled in 14 months, signaling the possible end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But another virus, this one causing a cyber- attack on one of the nation’s largest oil and gas pipeline, nearly upended these... Read More

To Build Back Better, Look to the States
Opinions
To Build Back Better, Look to the States

The continued implementation of the American Rescue Plan across the country reflects exactly the type of bold and aggressive action from Washington that candidate Biden promised when he told the country how he would lead us through this challenging time. It also illuminates the huge role... Read More

Can Companies Really Talk Politics at the Dinner Table?
Opinions
Can Companies Really Talk Politics at the Dinner Table?

With American adults spending over 2 hours per day on social media sites, businesses are no longer just anonymous entities that supply goods and services.  They are influencing people on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, participating in conversations with clear personalities while expressing opinions. The most successful... Read More

Employers Beg for Workers: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’
Opinions
Employers Beg for Workers: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’
May 12, 2021
by John Kass

Have you ever wondered what happens to flat-earthers? Not all spend their days eating pudding with plastic spoons and rewatching old sitcoms — or as fabulists hanging at the end of the bar, boasting of their heroic exploits until closing time. Some become president of the... Read More

We Must not Forget that Republicans Tried to Overturn the Election
Opinions
We Must not Forget that Republicans Tried to Overturn the Election
May 10, 2021
by Robert B. Reich

America prefers to look forward rather than back. We’re a land of second acts. We move on. This can be a strength. We don’t get bogged down in outmoded traditions, old grudges, obsolete ways of thinking. We constantly reinvent. We love innovation and disruption. The downside... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top