Column: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
The judge read the jury’s verdicts out loud. His voice was even. Inflections were nonexistent. Facial expressions were stilled. But three of his words spoke loudly, insistently, and expressively. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
But what did these three words really mean? Did they mean justice? Did they mean accountability? Did they mean closure? Did they mean fairness? Did they mean the beginning of real change? What did these three words really mean? Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
These three words made millions joyful. The joyful expressions were captured on televisions across the land and around the world. Some cried with joy. Some whooped with joy. Some jumped with joy. So many were joyful in their own ways. But I am certain some were sad. I am sure some were in pain. I am convinced some were disappointed. But what did these three words mean? Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
These three words meant that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three charges arising from the horrible death of George Floyd. Charge One - Murder in the second degree. Charge Two - Murder in the third degree. Charge Three - Manslaughter in the second degree. The same word for not one but each of the three charges. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
It was a cold-blooded murder. Policeman Derek Chauvin’s pressing his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for 9.5 minutes, then continuing to press his knee on the neck well after Floyd was dead. Two other policemen holding his dead body down while another stood guard. But the verdict was still very much in doubt until the judge read the same word for each charge. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
It took a mighty army to forge these three words: the Attorney General of Minnesota; a host of prosecutors; a police chief; other police officers and supervisors; ambulance personnel; multiple experts; multiple videos of the murder; street witnesses; and more, much more. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
I am certain that the prosecution cost millions of dollars, but I don’t know the amount. I understand that the two chief prosecutors volunteered their time. I know that it took millions of human beings protesting in the streets around the world. It took a raging pandemic with all its far-reaching implications. And still many of us were scared the verdict would not be the right one based upon a terrible history. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
The combination of events that brought about these three words was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. And it took every one of the events coming together in one moment and space to allow these three verdicts. And these events do not occur often. It took Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, an African American. But he is just one of four in the country. It took a progressive governor to refer the case to the attorney general, getting it out the hands of local prosecutors who work with the same police. Such governors are also very scarce. It took a mayor of a big city acting strongly, quickly and forthright. It took millions of dollars. Usually, the money is on the side of the police unions, not the prosecutors. More than police officers testified for the prosecution when usually not even one will testify because of the Blue Wall of Silence. The pandemic caused millions to be at home so they watched the video over and over again on television. The last pandemic before COVID-19 was in 1918, more than 100 years ago. Never have so many protested simultaneously around the world because of the death of a Black man. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Was justice done? Absolutely not. Justice would be for George Floyd to still be alive for his little 7-year-old daughter, Gianna Floyd. Justice would be for George Floyd to still be able to laugh and share with his brothers, sisters and other relatives. Justice would be for George Floyd to be with his friends and other loved ones. This is not justice. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Did these three words mean accountability? A fair answer is yes, yes, yes. But it took so much in this one effort to hear those three words. And these many resources are not available in other police killings. Usually these victims cannot get beyond the local prosecutor. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Did these three words mean closure? The answer is “no,” but the wound is a little less raw. Did these three words mean fairness? The answer is no, but it is a little less unfair. It took a whole world to forge these verdicts. And the world is not available each time there is a wrongful police killing of a Black person in these United States of America. In fact, several additional police killings of Black persons happened while this trial was in progress. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Do these three words mean a new beginning in police accountability? Or is this just one little flower bursting through a crack in the cement of police suppression? Is it just one drop easing through the Blue Wall of Silence? Or can this one act of accountability grow into the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 by the United States Congress? Gianna Floyd said, “Daddy changed the world.” I wish this were a fact. However, let’s hope and pray that these words of a then-6-year-old child becomes our reality. Gianna’s daddy certainly impacted the world. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
I don’t really know the answers to these questions. No one does. All I can say is, “Thank God for the little things; thank God for these three words.” Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
We never know the full impact of powerful events at the time they occur because we cannot see the full future. We cannot see how other events will combine with various aspects of this one powerful event to make unforeseen but monumental changes. Let’s see what these three words will grow into with our help. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Henry “Hank” Sanders was a Democratic member of the Alabama senate for 35 years.
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