Unpacking the Chauvin Verdict: Understanding Its Significance and Limitations

A discussion of the significance of the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd and what it represents for the larger movement for racial justice and police accountability. An examination of the limitations and ongoing challenges in achieving true justice in a system marred by systemic racism.

Last Tuesday evening, a Minneapolis jury convicted former cop Derek Chauvin on all charges for the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd last May. Chauvin now faces up to 40 years in prison, and the three officers that sat idly by and watched the crime unfold will go to trial for aiding and abetting the killing later this summer. The rare verdict against a police officer is a welcome relief for a country used to police plotting and getting away with murder at will, but its rarity — and the hollow victory it represents next to Floyd’s loss — is exactly why justice still feels so far out of reach.

George Floyd is still gone, and a guilty verdict doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t return a father to his little girl, a brother to his siblings, a son to his parents, a partner to his girlfriend. When a life is stolen there’s no courtroom in the world that could fill the hole that person leaves behind — a verdict is about accountability, but to call it justice is an insult to Floyd’s memory.

Justice is a future where Black life can exist free from white violence. Justice is a future where the cycles of violence and oppression that we inherit are abolished alongside the institutions of mass incarceration and the police that perpetuate it. Justice is when these painful moments are lessons we learn from and not simply media frenzies that make powerful folks in this country believe our work is done. Our work is never done as long as a just future remains out of reach.

As a Black-led collective of innovators, designers, storytellers, leaders, and builders trying to do the work of shaping a just future, we want to honor the many diverse and conflicting feelings of our team. Read some of our team member’s thoughts below:

“We stand with the family of George Floyd and the families of people who have lost their lives at the hands of a system that is broken for some and working just fine for others. The guilty verdicts are far from “Justice” for George Floyd but it is a step in the right direction to stop the dehumanization of Black people.

George Floyd should still be alive but because we refuse to reckon with the long-storied past of police brutality, George was not the last to die. The time has come for us to address this issue head on and call for clear reconstruct of the public safety system in this country. While we are encouraged by this verdict, the work of healing and transformation is ever present. We will continue to work in ways meant to disrupt oppressive systems and ultimately uplift the beloved community.”

DeJuana Thompson, Principal

“What are my thoughts? I’m conflicted. As an abolitionist, I feel difficult distanced from this event that seems like a snake eating its own tail. Do I feel comfort? Do I feel shock? Frustration? Apathy? All of this, or none of it at all?

Honestly, I feel like it’s too little too late. Sure, he’s experiencing accountability. But true justice is building a world where this trauma never experienced in the first place. That’s the problem with all of this: in a healthy relationship, a true apology is reformed behavior. But, everything here happened after the fact. So, we can’t feel relaxed until we see a world where we aren’t re-traumatized daily.”

Dr. Pierce Otlhogile-Gordon, Director of the Equity Innovation Studio

“I’m thinking about safety, the stories we tell about policing and justice, and I’m thinking about transformation. On safety, we couldn’t even finish exhaling without finding out about the police murdering Ma’Khia Bryant, and it’s just the most visceral reminder that one verdict for one cop for one murder does nothing to make Black people actually safe from police violence. The stories we tell about policing and justice — about heroism, credibility, compliance, crime and safety — give too much power to police and impair our ability to transform an institution that was born out of fugitive slave patrols and deputized racial violence. These stories require deeper scrutiny, with imagination that’s liberated from fear. We know that the safest communities have the most resources, not the most cops. It’s past time to decolonize American policing, incarceration and military institutions, and create humane systems that guarantee our stability, peace, restoration and well-being.

I’m also thinking deeply about transformation — how we move forward from this moment to create a future where this never happens to another Black mama’s baby. Justice is measured in transformation, and we have to transform our values, our culture, our norms, and our institutions if we want to reach towards abolition. Abolition is not just the death of one kind of society, but the birth of another, and lives are on the line until we get there.”

Chris Mueller, Director of the Storytelling Studio