by Molly Dye
May 20th, 2021

While the Derek Chauvin criminal trial drew to a close with the verdict that many did not expect, there remains much to be done to fight towards racial justice and eliminate police violence.

The trial’s end only represents a first step in the enduring process of changing the criminal justice system.

Soon after Chauvin’s verdict was announced to the public, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, described that “today, we are able to breathe again,” in response to the outcome, further noting on ABC’s Good Morning America that the verdict represents “accountability.”

The verdict came as a surprise to many Black Americans as many expected Chauvin to be pronounced guilty on at least one count, but not all three. Ryan Wilson, CEO of the Gathering Spot, a hub for civil engagement in Atlanta, described his feelings surrounding the verdict to NBC News. “It was a powerful, sort of full circle moment for me to see a different outcome where I saw it,” Wilson said. “But still, another Black man is dead. I’m still saddened we have a broken police system.”

For Darryl K. Washington, CEO of DKW Communications in Washington, D.C., the trial’s result held some relief for Black Americans but did not fix any ongoing problems. “This verdict doesn’t mean it’s fixed — it’s not,” Washington said to NBC News. “It means it got this one right. But does it make up for all the hundreds or thousands that it got wrong in the past? No. And that’s why you see some people not celebrating as much as just being glad there was justice for this one tragic case.”

Chauvin’s case, unlike other trials against criminal police activities, was atypical and doesn’t necessarily represent how past and present trials have gone. As NBC News reports, “Chauvin is only one of the many officers who have killed Black people in just the last year, and most have evaded any meaningful punishment.” Whereas many other cases of murder committed by police occurred in split seconds, Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd lasted nine minutes and 29 seconds with video camera evidence and several witnesses.

Furthermore, Chauvin’s entire trial involved no discussion on race, even though “American policing’s most pressing problems are racial ones,” as Alexis Karteron, Professor of Law at Rutgers University, described to US News. Chauvin’s defense used the phrase “excited delirium” while justifying Chauvin’s decision to hold Floyd under his neck for nine minutes. Phrases like these, which try to excuse officers’ violent actions against Black people, were used throughout the trial to avoid discussion of racism. “Progress will be made only when America as a whole gets real about the role of race – something the legal system routinely fails to do,” said Karteron.

Though Chauvin’s conviction demonstrates one success, many police officers who have killed unarmed Black Americans were never indicted or tried. This was the case in the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, and Breonna Taylor, as the New York Times reports. Moreover, in the aftermath of the killings of Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, charges against police officers were dropped and the cases never went to court. On April 11th, 10 miles away from the location of Chauvin’s trial, Daunte Wright was shot by an officer at a traffic stop. Just minutes before Chauvin’s verdict, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was fatally shot by an officer in Ohio.

Furthermore, reckless behavior on the part of police remains an issue that has cost the lives of many Black Americans' lives whose killers have served no justice, as in the case of Breonna Taylor. In the aftermath of the Chauvin case, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, tweeted that even though justice has been served for George Floyd, “we are not (done) fighting for justice for all the victims and families” who “haven’t received theirs,” with hashtags referring to her daughter, Ahmaud Arbery, Adam Toledo, Jacob Blake, Daunte Wright, and Sean Monterrosa.

Police violence remains something that the Black community disproportionately suffers from more than others, and it will take many important steps before long-lasting justice is served. As NYU scholars Steven Demarest and Vincent Southerland described to NBC, "approaching this fight will take reducing law enforcement’s power to invest in safer schools, housing, healthcare, and infrastructure, while also reckoning with a police system built on racism and recognizing how it continues to affect everyday society." “There is much work to do,” said Stanford scholar Hakeem Jefferson. “I can only hope that those working to bring about a more long-lasting kind of justice are inspired by this decision to keep doing the hard work.”