Loading...

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.

Opinions

December 2, 2021
by Leonard Pitts
'True Compassion is More Than Flinging a Coin to a Beggar'

Abraham could have asked for anything. The Make-A-Wish folks stood ready to make a dream come true for the 13-year-old... Read More

Abraham could have asked for anything. The Make-A-Wish folks stood ready to make a dream come true for the 13-year-old boy, who has aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder. But Adeola “Abraham” Olagbegi didn’t ask for a PS5 or a day with LeBron James. No, he... Read More

A 19-State Coalition Urges Congress to Pass the PFAS Action Act

On Nov. 15, 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a coalition of 19 attorneys in urging Congress to enact the PFAS... Read More

On Nov. 15, 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a coalition of 19 attorneys in urging Congress to enact the PFAS Action Act, legislation amending federal environmental laws to address PFAS contamination and provide funding for cleanup. In recent years, the family of manufactured chemicals called per-... Read More

Community Foundations in Time for Celebration and Reflection

This week, our nation comes together to recognize the more than 750 community foundations that operate in communities spanning the... Read More

This week, our nation comes together to recognize the more than 750 community foundations that operate in communities spanning the U.S. In many communities, organizations like mine have played a central role in fostering local collaboration and innovation to address persistent civic and economic challenges for... Read More

November 11, 2021
by Leonard Pitts
How Young is Too Young to Teach White Kids About Race?

Isabella Tichenor killed herself a few days ago. She was 10 years old. Her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, said last week... Read More

Isabella Tichenor killed herself a few days ago. She was 10 years old. Her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, said last week that her daughter — she called her “Izzy” — had been the target of ongoing racist abuse from classmates at her school in North Salt Lake,... Read More

Vexatious Trade Secret Litigation Shouldn’t Hamstring Innovation

When real estate title company Amrock sued data analytics firm HouseCanary in 2016, few foresaw how that seemingly straightforward $5... Read More

When real estate title company Amrock sued data analytics firm HouseCanary in 2016, few foresaw how that seemingly straightforward $5 million breach of contract lawsuit would trigger such significant constitutional and public policy concerns, or devolve into a years-long legal quagmire with three-quarters of a billion... Read More

November 9, 2021
by Mary Sanchez
Two Missouri Inmates, Two Tales of Justice Delayed

Once an innocent person is entangled in the criminal justice system, it’s damningly difficult to wrench them free. The public... Read More

Once an innocent person is entangled in the criminal justice system, it’s damningly difficult to wrench them free. The public is only vaguely aware of this. After all, that’s the point. Someone sentenced to prison is out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of... Read More

News From The Well
Exit mobile version