Derek Chauvin, the former Minnesota police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, leading to his death, was found guilty on all three counts with which he was charged.
The national response to this historic event – Chauvin is the first white officer in Minnesota to be convicted of killing a black person – was bittersweet. Black people across the nation heard the verdict and…cried. They were tears of joy, no doubt, but also an opening of the flood gates, an opportunity for the nation to see how much pain was being released from a race that feels unfairly targeted.
Finally, they said, we have justice.
The nation as a whole seems to agree. Thanks to the video footage captured by Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old high school student who witnessed Floyd’s death along with her 9-year-old niece, the nation saw the entire incident unfold before their eyes. It was damning evidence, and this time the jury had no choice but to find Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. His own fellow police officers and chief testified against him, and after only 10 hours, the jury sealed his fate.
The Christian response echoed that of the nation. The Christian Reform Church put out this announcement: “Some refuse to believe that race had anything to do with this tragic death. For many others, George Floyd was yet another name on a long list of Black men and women who were murdered at the hands of others, including police officers. As a result, the Chauvin trial came to be seen almost as a litmus test to determine whether justice would be served in this case.”
In other words, the reality of George Floyd as a human being – not as a race, not as someone who had been in trouble with the law, but as a fellow human being made in God’s image – finally woke up those who had been blind to the racism that still exists.
Floyd suffered in his final moments on Earth, and he seemed to know that they were indeed his final moments. He called out to his mama, who had passed, as if to say, wait for me, I’ll be there soon. He didn’t struggle and he didn’t pose a threat. We watched him die with his neck pressed to the cement and as Christians, as human beings, we mourned.
Last week, however, the judge and jury made certain that this time, justice would be served. Our nation came together with a giant sigh of relief as we all seemed to understand what this decision represents. Right now, in this moment, we agree on the respect and dignity that should be afforded all human life. ALL human life is precious in God’s eyes. Inequality and inequity don’t just hurt those victimized by it; it hurts our nation as a whole.
As Christians we need to reach out to people of all races and ethnicities and check in on them. Do they have what they need? Can we help them in any way? Is there an aspect of their culture we can better understand?
And we need to pray. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters of color who sobbed when this verdict was read, their pent-up emotion mixed with a glimmer of hope that perhaps this is the turning point. We need to pray for our nation that this really will be a turning point. That we will come together to ensure that no one’s life is less valuable and it’s certainly not disposable.
Robert Barber in Christianity Today said, “This verdict shows that there is a path towards the world becoming a better place and it can include Christians involved in this struggle. Moral imperative can be good or bad. People are capable of doing great harm if they believe that what they are doing is good and right. When it comes to these issues, Christian discourse in the United States today does have challenges, but also opportunities. There are certain traditions, for example, that have rich resources from which to draw for advocating for non-violent change. Martin Luther King, Jr., comes immediately to mind. If you think racial progress is a challenge today, think about what it was like in the Jim Crow South. The Black church was instrumental in effecting that change. There were so many resources available through the church. You have leaders like MLK, Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, and C. T. Vivian. All of these civil rights leaders came from the ministry.”
Barber’s call is for church leaders and all believers to take up the charge. “You have this tightly knit set of networks of believers who can spread information very quickly. That means they can mobilize efficiently for political activity, for demonstration, for protests, for getting to the polls to vote. Whatever it might be, they can be involved in that struggle for change.”