The conviction is of great symbolic importance, though much more is needed to remove the racist stain from America’s soul.
The guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd back in May 2020 is an essential starting point in the significant task facing both the authorities and American society as a whole: to reverse a disturbing situation in which abuse of authority, disproportionate use of violence and racism are intertwined in numerous cases where law enforcement officers are the protagonists.
The scenes of joy in various parts of the United States when the result was announced were more than justified. The images of Floyd suffocating on the ground — while the now-convicted police officer refused to lift his knee off his neck despite the victim’s desperate cries that he could not breathe — echoed around the world, sparking the largest anti-racist protest the country has witnessed since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Demonstrators throughout the country also expressed their anger at the many incidents in recent years where minorities have been killed by police officers in the course of arrest or identification.
In the absence of a sentence, the trial against former officer Chauvin has transcended the facts put before the court. The sense of helplessness that many Americans feel in the face of what they rightly perceive to be systematic abuse of law enforcement, especially against the African American minority, is well-founded. Unfortunately, these are regular occurrences and condemnation of police action is rare. In Chauvin’s case, the existence of a video that recorded the entire scene has clearly been key. Those who wondered just how many similar cases had gone unnoticed because they were not recorded ahead of the guilty verdict were right.
The verdict is, therefore, extremely important. But it is equally crucial that all the reflection surrounding these dramatic events is used for the real prosecution and elimination of unjustifiable police practices. The Justice Department’s initiative to carry out a review for systemic failures in Minneapolis policing announced yesterday appears to be the right one. However, cleaning up the “stain on the soul of [the] nation,” as President Joe Biden said, requires much more than this. Comprehensive action on multiple fronts will be needed to root out the underlying racism, discrimination and inequality in a society that claims to be the world’s most powerful democracy.