Professor Bennett Capers, director of the Center on Race, Law and Justice, shared his reflections on the Derek Chauvin conviction and the work to do in policing in an op-ed for The New York Daily News.
It felt like I’d been holding my breath. I didn’t realize it until the verdict was announced. And it didn’t just feel like I’d been holding my breath for seconds. It felt like I’d been holding my breath at least for a year, since Officer Derek Chauvin cavalierly knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, seemingly indifferent to the fact that he was depriving Floyd of breath, that Floyd was dying, that Floyd was dead.
In a way, I’d been holding my breath during the protests that engulfed the country last summer, as mostly peaceful demonstrators were too often met with police violence. And of course during Chauvin’s trial, I was holding my breath, especially as I watched Chauvin’s lawyer blame Floyd for his own death. He even blamed the carbon monoxide that might be coming from an exhaust pipe that just happened to be where Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck. I was even holding my breath as the prosecutor, in the state’s closing argument, kept telling the jury that the police were not on trial, just Chauvin. And certainly as the jury was deliberating, when the news was full with stories about police departments across the country preparing for possible unrest, I was holding my breath.
There is a reason the prosecutor, in his closing argument, kept repeating that the trial was about one man, Derek Chauvin. He was trying to assure any jurors who were pro-police that a guilty verdict against Chauvin would not amount to an indictment of the police as a whole.
And in a way, he was right. One man was on trial, and one man only. And yet for many of us, this trial is also about who we are, and who we want to be. And for that, the verdict is still very much out. For that, I’m still waiting to be able to breathe freely. A lot of us are.