April 8, 2021
“All men are created equal.” The Supreme Court pediment proclaims “Equal Justice Under Law.” The Constitution begins, “We the people.”
We’ve had four years of trauma, testing this country’s heart and soul. The Minneapolis trial is another test.
Cops have long gotten away with brutality and crime. The Rodney King trial a prime example. Our society cloaks police officers with a powerful mystique and deference. Many idealize them as our bulwark against the abyss. There’s also the traditional “blue wall” of cops circling wagons to protect their own.
The Minneapolis trial presents a supremely important counterstory. Here the blue wall has resoundingly fallen, with officer after officer taking the stand to denounce what their man did. A virtually unprecedented blow against police impunity.
A guilty verdict would cement the trial’s positive societal import. The evidence seems damning. The parade of police witnesses blew away the defense that Chauvin was following his training. And to claim Floyd died from other causes is ridiculous. Chauvin seemed to want him dead; or else simply didn’t care; and shows no remorse.
But juries can be unpredictable.* As salutary as a conviction would be, a failure to convict would be a devastating setback to our collective progress.
I do not want to see people having to take to the streets, yet another time, to protest yet another such outrage. Which can begin to feel pointless and futile. There must come a time when the hammer of justice finally prevails. If it does not prevail here, in this most extreme of cases, when could we ever hope for it?
The right keeps bleating “Freedom!” and about government overreach. But no threat from government is more immediate than its armed representatives who can kill you. No freedom more important than the freedom to go about your life in peace and security. Why isn’t police accountability a conservative rallying cry? (Well, America’s “conservative” movement has simply lost its mind.)
They also bleat about law and order. Floyd’s killing was the antithesis of law and order. If you want law and order, start with the people we hire to enforce it. What does it say if a society condones those very people themselves violating law and order?
That’s not my America. In my America, those people — even those people — especially those people — are accountable to the rule of law and to the citizenry they are entrusted with protecting.
Too often we have failed at that. And, yes, at many other aspects of our foundational ideals. Humans are imperfect. But America’s great virtue is constant improvement. The last four years were a ghastly swerve from that trajectory. The Minneapolis trial can help us return to it, can be a key milestone in our larger story of progress toward a “more perfect union.”
** In the one trial where I sat as an alternate juror, the verdict shocked me.