Editorial: We have work to do, but Chauvin trial offers cause for faith in American ideals

  • George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd wipes his eyes during a news conference Tuesday in Minneapolis after the verdict was read convicting former Police Officer Derek Chauvin of murder in George Floyd's death.

    George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd wipes his eyes during a news conference Tuesday in Minneapolis after the verdict was read convicting former Police Officer Derek Chauvin of murder in George Floyd's death. Associated Press Photo

 
Posted4/20/2021 7:59 PM

So, it appears there will be some justice for George Floyd. This is no moment either for relief or jubilation. It is perhaps a moment for hope.

For millions of people, in America and around the world, it wasn't merely Derek Chauvin who was on trial in Minneapolis these past two weeks. It was the American justice system itself.

 

So many of us, after all, have seen the horrific video. We watched for those nine excruciating minutes as an officer of the law pinned a handcuffed man's face to the ground, continually ignored his pleas for relief, dismissed bystanders pleading on his behalf and continued to crush him against the cement long after he had ceased to be any kind of threat. If our conviction in the wrongness of that act were fogged by the urgency of passion, we trusted in our court system to exact after weeks of intense scrutiny and argument the truth of what our senses observed. The Chauvin trial found no reasonable cause to doubt what we had seen, and the jury, in declaring the ex-cop's guilt on all charges, offered reassurance to men and women of all ages, colors and creeds to have faith in a nation governed by the rule of law.

Without such faith, the very foundations of our democracy are at risk.

The outcome of one trial alone, to be sure, does not depict, does not vindicate or epitomize, the entirety of the vast American system of law and order. But it does show that that system can work, that it can work for all people and that it expects the same of all people, whether they are everyday folks on the street or police officers backed by the authority of the state.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump evoked such thoughts Tuesday as he spoke to a crowd of family and dignitaries in Minneapolis.

"Let's pause ...," he said, "to proclaim this historical moment, not just for the legacy of George Floyd but for the legacy of America, the legacy of trying to make America for all Americans. So that George Floyd's victory and America's quest for equal justice under the law would be intertwined."

That's a lot to ask of one trial, but it is not so grand a reflection as to overstate the implications of the Chauvin case. Indeed, it aptly captures the aspirations at the core of our society, aspirations that are at once imposing and straightforward: the promise -- or if not the promise, at least a conviction in the ideal -- that justice is real and an honorable nation values it from its heart.

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It may seem ironic to turn to a British icon for encouragement at a critical point in America's history, but we are drawn today to a famous quote attributed to Winston Churchill. "All the great things are simple," Churchill said, "and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope."

It is not an exaggeration to see that those ideals were on trial in this case, nor to acknowledge that all those ideals were reinforced by this jury. But it is likely that the dominant message in this verdict was the final word in Churchill's statement -- hope.

How fervently we wish that Chauvin's case will be the last of its kind, but we have all too much evidence in contradiction of such a desire. There is still much work to be done to align our nation and our society with its highest ambitions. But today, at least, we can see movement in that direction.

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