The Charlotte Observer published this editorial on April 20:
After all the vivid and searing images connected to the killing of George Floyd, Tuesday brought us another: The eyes of Derek Chauvin, wide and darting above his Covid mask, as the hard verdicts reached by a group of Black, white and multiracial jurors rained down upon him.
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
For many, the cause of Chauvin’s distress was their cause for relief. This former police officer, unlike so many others before him, would not avoid justice for his vicious abuse of power. In American cities and towns and in places around the world, many felt a sense of grateful wonder after a year of bitter anger. Equality under the law was honored. The system worked. Justice prevailed. ...
Even as Chauvin was on trial, police in a Minneapolis suburb shot and killed a young Black man in an incident that began with a traffic stop for an expired tag. The nation has a history of these traumatic encounters between police and Black people that repeat no matter how starkly each event is exposed and condemned.
Yet in the case of George Floyd there is a feeling that something has profoundly changed. His death brought Blacks and whites together in protest. It helped sweep away Confederate monuments erected during the Jim Crow era, including those on the grounds of North Carolina’s Capitol. It brought calls for police reform and forced many people, especially well meaning white people, to consider their biases and recognize the presence of systemic racism in housing, work, education, health care and criminal justice.
One of the most painful moments of the Chauvin trial came as Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist, reviewed the video of Floyd handcuffed and face down in the street with Chauvin’s knee pressing on his neck. Tobin noted the moment when Floyd took his last breath. But that heartrending image also brought something alive — a powerful desire to cure what caused the execution.
The cure is not in the misguided slogan of “defund the police.” The police are essential to a safe and, yes, a just society. What’s needed is a refocusing of policing. Stop the excessive policing of minority communities in which small violations lead to major confrontations. Have mental health experts join the response to unstable and agitated people. Provide more treatment for substance abusers. Perhaps reduce the size of police forces and increase the pay for officers to attract more candidates. And of course, address implicit bias and systemic racism that can afflict policing as they do so many institutions.
The ideas are many and the will is there for real change. It’s not about blaming the police. The vast majority of officers are sincerely trying to serve the public, but they have hard jobs made much more difficult by the likes of Chauvin. They, too, benefit from Chauvin’s conviction. It will help to break the blue wall of silence that has for so long kept bad cops from being brought to justice. Officers who have felt unable to speak about what’s wrong with police codes of behavior have valuable ideas about what should change. Government leaders should listen to them.
But for this week, take satisfaction in seeing justice done and that the rancor and protest after Floyd’s death have turned to relief and hope that change, at last, has come.