Derek Chauvin’s verdict was a glimpse of hope, receive it

Mixed feelings

I was at the park with my kids when I heard the news. We got the update that the Derek Chauvin verdict would be announced within 90 minutes, and right as 90 minutes was up we heard the verdict. The speed of the jury’s answer assured me that he would be convicted, but my heart and my experience told me otherwise. So many times, killer cops have been let off the hook, and so I wondered how this time could be any different. My emotions and my experience prevailed over my rationality that the speed of the verdict and the egregious actions of Derek Chauvin, recorded for all of us to see, were enough that he would indeed be convicted. And he was. Convicted on all three counts.

I had a feeling of relief in me, and also joy, but ultimately, it felt like my anger was fulfilled. This felt like justice, in a sense, and I even Tweeted such:

It didn’t feel like justice, however. George Floyd wasn’t back. He was still dead and he never should have been. Derek Chauvin was being punished, but there was not reparations, or restitutions, or even much hope for rehabilitation, when it came to his punishment. I’m not even sure that his conviction would result in much deterrence (maybe just deterrence in front of a camera—in fact, without that recorded footage, I wonder if this murder would have even gone to court). It did incapacitate him, at least.

As elated as I was, I felt conflicted. Our systems of rehabilitation are broken, and the prison system itself, is an extension of the policing system that we have that needs be completely changed. My friend told me the “system was turning in on itself.” I don’t know about all that. It seems like the system just got one of its proponents, and little else.

The truth prevailed

At the same time, the truth was told. The jury saw what we all saw: that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and they named it as such. In fact, across all political segments in the United States, the majority of Americans agree with the verdict (even just 46 percent of Republicans don’t—too large of a number, but still trending in the right direction). That is all a good thing.

As a nonviolent Christian, I believe that all forms of violence are ultimately unnecessary, so I think the way we police, the way we imprison, and the way we operate as a society can all be changed to a nonviolent end. So I am a prison and police abolitionist. I collect this vision from my faith, from the example of Jesus, and from my belief that the work of Jesus on the Cross and in his Resurrection cleared a path for us to live in a new way.

Yet I was celebrating, or at least feeling justified, that the system which I deeply oppose had convicted an evildoer. I think conflicted is the right feeling to have. If you don’t feel convicted, maybe you’ve placed too much hope in the system. If you don’t feel relief, maybe justice in the system is simply immaterial to you because your power and privilege preclude you from ever feeling an injustice from that very system.

Derek Chauvin’s verdict was not a harbinger of revolution

I am further conflicted because Derek Chauvin’s conviction was such an anomaly. Minutes before his conviction Nicholas Reardon killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus. And the conservative commentators are already saying that Chauvin was different, and that Reardon had to kill her to save someone else’s life. So you see how cheap the justice is? How specific the Chauvin case needed to be? That can leave me hopeless too.

Derek Chauvin’s conviction wasn’t the beginning of a revolution, it was an exception to the rule. It showed us that, yes, in the worst of cases, where the murder is undeniable (and recorded), a cop can suffer consequences to their actions, that they aren’t invincible. But it was not an indication of a sea change. Perhaps it will be, but that remains to be seen. There are too many names of dead black people whose killers have not seen consequences.

Furthermore, the system itself isn’t broken because of the Derek Chauvins of the world. His actions are uniquely horrific, but God is calling us to imagine a whole new way of doing things. We needn’t use the frameworks of this world to limit our imaginations. We can have a prophetic imagination that sees everything differently. Another world is possible, without guns, without violence, without racism. Will the systems at hand give us that world? I don’t think so, but those who are moved by the Holy Spirit to Resist and Restore can.

Allow this justice to add to your discipline of hope

This eschatological prophetic vision from God is a political one, and it informs our politics. We need to look for signs of hope to keep us going. If we are in despair because Derek Chauvin’s arrest wasn’t a revolution, if we are disappointed that his conviction will be used to justify that our police and our justice system actually work, I think we are missing an opportunity. We have to see the good in the incomplete. That allows us to see the good in ourselves, as incomplete as we are. If we need to be perfect to take a step forward, we may take none at all. So as broken as our system is, we saw some hope through it, regardless. And as broken as we are, God is using us to redeem and change the world. This freedom to see where we lack, and where we don’t, allows us to not only receive the small victories of a broken system, it allows us to see where we are broken and where we are growing. None of us are complete, but the gift of the cross means that we can embrace where we fail, and no longer be condemned by it. We’re invited into a new life of righteousness.

I’m called to have a discipline of hope, not of despair. I am moved to see where the light is breaking through the darkness. I have a hope for an entirely different world and a way of doing things because of my faith in Jesus, who brings an entirely upside-down vision to us, where the last are first, and the first last. Where peacemakers are blessed. Where violence is no longer necessary. What sustains my hope is my belief that heaven will meet earth, that the Kingdom of God is here and it’s coming. I know that my God is more powerful than the systems of the world. So when the systems of the world give me small victories, I find hope in that, not because I believe that they will deliver me, but because I’ve been given a glimpse of what true Victory is.

Derek Chauvin’s conviction, then, was a glimpse of God’s righteousness, God’s justice, God’s rectification. It was a glimpse of making wrong things right. Justice for George Floyd is an extension of the Justice of God. Christians, in particular, can see that justice done, even by the state, is an expression of justice done by God. All true justice is God’s justice. And in this in-between time, we need to receive the relief that even state justice gives us.

We know this is a small step. But it is a victory to hold a killer cop accountable. And though true justice awaits, and we actively wait for it, this conviction is endurance for the long struggle we’re in. We have hope that is transcendent, we know that our true liberation awaits, but as we await for that liberation and we suffer in the present age, it is a good thing to embrace positive outcomes when we see them. Let’s not give in to despair or cynicism. Look for the signs of light in this dark night that we live in, as you await entrance into the realms of endless day.

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