THE conviction of a white police officer in the United States for the murder of George Floyd brings a “sense of justice” and “even relief” — but it cannot heal the sickness of racism, the Bishop of Minnesota, the Rt Revd Craig Loya, has said.
Derek Chauvin, a former police officer, was found guilty on Tuesday of the murder of George Floyd, a black American whose death sparked worldwide protests against racism and police brutality.
Mr Floyd, who was 46, died in the city of Minneapolis last June while being detained by Chauvin, a white police officer, who could be seen in a video kneeling on his neck for nine minutes (News, 5 June 2020). Mr Floyd, who was pulled from his car, handcuffed, and pinned down by Chauvin, could be heard to say: “I can’t breathe.” This footage was used as evidence.
A Minnesota court found Chauvin guilty on all three charges — second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The most serious charge of second-degree murder carries a prison sentence of up to 40 years in the state; third-degree murder is up to 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter is up to ten years.
The jury of 12, which was appointed in March, took less than 12 hours to reach its verdict. The defendant was found guilty on 45 counts.
Cheers erupted outside the court as the news emerged.
Healing would take time and faith, Bishop Loya said. “Mr. Floyd’s murder is a symptom of a deep sickness that infects every one of us, and every institution that makes up the fabric of our common life. One verdict, however momentous, will not heal this sickness that lies deep inside us.”
Preaching at a service of compline in Minnesota on Wednesday, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, thanked Bishop Loya for his leadership. “You have been faithful through this journey, and many of you have marched and virtually all of you have prayed and you have stayed the course.”
He said of the road to racial justice and equality: “It is the long walk that can make you faint, because it’s long. It’s not quick success. . . The struggle continues, but we know now the victory can be won.”
In anticipation of the verdict, Bishop Curry had prayed for the soul of Mr Floyd and for the “justice and healing” of the nation. “Whatever comes with the verdict, there is no celebration. Nothing will bring George Floyd back to his family or his community back to us. The struggle continues.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on social media on Wednesday: “Justice for George Floyd was essential. Praying for his family and friends today, and all who waited with them. Praying too for all who live with the trauma of racist violence and oppression, endured over many generations, and all who continue to wait and struggle for justice.”
A statement from the clergy at Washington National Cathedral gave thanks “that justice has been done. The facts were never in doubt. . . What we did not know until today was whether our criminal justice system would render justice in a case of a White officer taking the life of a Black man.”
The statement was signed by the Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Edgar Budde; the Dean, the Very Revd Randolph Marshall Hollerith; the Canon Missioner and Minister of Equity and Inclusion, the Revd Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.; and the Rector of St John’s, Lafayette Square, the Revd Robert W. Fisher.
They wrote: “We pray for God’s mercy to surround George Floyd’s family and friends as they hold their private grief in the spotlight of an international movement demanding acknowledgement that Black lives matter as much as other lives. To them, and to all for whom there is so rarely justice, we pledge our continued commitment to the work of confronting racism in ourselves, our churches and the nation, including the racism present within policing in this country. . . . We also pray for all police officers, for their discernment when on duty and for their safety.”
President Joe Biden called the family of Mr Floyd after the verdict, saying: “At least, God, now there is some justice.” He later said that the outcome could be “a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America” — but only if “real change and reform” was delivered as a result. “We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again,” he said.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on Wednesday, the Head of Engagement for Christian Aid, Chine McDonald, said: “Yesterday we saw Chauvin convicted of his crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. When it comes to seeing guilty parties convicted, doubt has long existed among black communities, my community.
“We have seen generations of trauma, necks on the line, justice denied. We know too many names of black people killed because their lives were viewed as lesser, resulting in a culture where even jogging or waiting at a bus stop or going to the shops, or even sleeping in their beds, black bodies are rendered at risk. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and countless others in the US. Stephen Lawrence, Sean Rigg, Sheku Bayoh, Joy Gardner, and many more in the UK.
“And yet many black communities have kept the faith, recognising in the biblical narrative a story of a God who sides with the oppressed, rather than those who hold on to a power that corrupts. . . While it will take more than one conviction to end injustice, we wait to see if this is the watershed moment. But we can’t rest, because, as Martin Luther King said: ‘We are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like rivers and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, was interviewed on the Today programme. He had felt, he said, “a tremendous sense of relief, because there was no guarantee that the verdict would have come in as guilty, and certainly guilty on all three counts. It was like taking a deep, deep breath and being able to release this huge breath. . .
“This is the beginning of a step to really restore some semblance of trust in the American system of justice. Again, I want to say begin the process to restore. For so many of these cases, nothing has happened, and so this feels like the right thing. It feels like it can be setting a tone. . .
“We always know that there’s a tremendous amount of work that still must be done. So it does not mean that this one case has restored and transformed everything that has ever happened in this nation, it just means that hopefully we’re making the right kind of progress as we move toward that point of creating a justice system that is truly equal and just for all people.”