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Chauvin verdict must lead to change

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, stands

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, stands after the verdict is read in his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd on Tuesday at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Credit: AP

Two dramas have been ongoing in America since last May, when George Floyd was murdered under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The first drama involved the particular, the tragedy that was Floyd’s death, the echo it had for Floyd’s family and friends, the indictment, the jury selection, the testimony about tactics and timing, and the looming question of whether a video of what the world saw happen in plain sight would be enough to hold a now-former police officer accountable.

That drama ended Tuesday, with jurors finding Chauvin guilty of all three counts of murder and manslaughter for using excessive and unreasonable force in restraining Floyd during his arrest for allegedly using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The second drama involves whether Floyd’s murder can lead to an unprecedented movement, a moment for change in race relations in America, beyond policing to larger societal issues. Is Floyd’s death a turning point?

That drama is still unfolding.

Generation after generation, America’s attention has been seized by instances of police brutality like this one. The list of men and women killed like Floyd is too long, and too overlooked. But there were early signs that something was different about Floyd’s death, in the largely peaceful protests that swept the country and the world, the largest demonstrations of their kind in recent memory.

There were glimmers of difference in the way the calls for change were aimed not just at police precincts, but across the whole of our society, from politics to entertainment to education and housing and industry. There were glimmers of consequence in the laws passed in New York and other states, removing restrictions on sharing police disciplinary records and revisiting policing tactics and policies, from body cameras to chokeholds.

The Chauvin trial itself played host to enormous moments, including 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, who recorded the crucial cellphone video, saying in court that Floyd looked like her father, her brothers, her friends. That video will forever be a keystone to the history of this era. In the locked-down Minneapolis courtroom, another line was crossed as we heard a string of police brass from the chief on down criticize Chauvin’s actions, suggesting a break in the blue wall of silence. American history is too long and features too many bloody, tragic moments of discrimination and violence to predict that even these changes will be enough to usher in a new reality on race.

But we must hope. There must be a better way.

The Chauvin case, the very specific one, still has more legal stages, sentencing and appeals. But the courtroom drama is close to an end. No decision or verdict can bring George Floyd back to life. But perhaps now we can find the focus we need to work toward an America that seizes its moment, in this larger drama, to create a world where a Black man does not have to fear death in police custody.

— The editorial board