It is a relief, a sign of progress and an affirmation of the energy and outrage that has driven the demand for justice.
But the conviction of Derek Chauvin does not mean that our broken system is fixed. Do not give him more power than he deserves.
I am grateful that, unlike the jury in the trial against the officers who beat Rodney King, these 12 jurors did indeed believe what they saw on this devastating video of Chauvin stealing the life of George Floyd.
But this rare judicial victory is not a universal declaration of the value of black lives. This is not – despite the quality of the sound bite – a message to blacks that we can now move freely, worry-free, in our daily lives.
The horror of this affair has set in with people like me – conditioned for hope, but prepared for disappointment.
I spent Tuesday morning staring at my computer screen for hours without writing anything. I was too busy updating my news feed and wondering what the jury was still out on.
I had walked away for lunch when my phone lit up with text messages: the jurors had made a decision. My heart started to beat and beat so hard that I wondered if I might be having a heart attack.
They had deliberated for less than 12 hours before finding Chauvin guilty of the three charges he faced. But it had seemed like an eternity, as I sat in silence, harboring anxieties I couldn’t speak of.
My colleagues and neighbors all seemed so optimistic: How could the jury not convict, they asked, given the strength of the accusation and the emotional weight of the video? They had faith where I was only afraid.
The murder, the charges and the criminal prosecution had reopened a wound that I believed had long been healed.
The Chauvin charge entered my skin in a way I hadn’t known since four Los Angeles cops were tried – and acquitted – 29 years ago this month for the beating of King .
Since this case was brought before the jury, I couldn’t think of anything else. I have spent the past four days in the fog, feeling worried, tense, and inexplicably in danger whenever I had to leave the house.
I thought I had learned to control my emotions.
But I couldn’t help but remember this video of King, which also sparked outrage around the world. At the time, I allowed myself to believe that no jury could deny the horror of what we had all seen. King had been trampled, kicked and beaten by a crowd of officers.
Then the verdicts of “not guilty” were pronounced.
And to this day, it’s not the horror of the riots that followed that I remember most. It is the sorrow of the verdicts. Listening to them on TV in the LA Times newsroom, I felt physical pain; the words struck a blow that made my stomach curdle, weakened my knees and made me dizzy.
My colleagues fell silent and I suddenly felt exposed and alone. Why was I the only one crying?
This time, I knew I was not the only one on my side, not wanting to see the guilty verdicts as inevitable.
In the run-up to the verdict being announced on CNN, Don Lemon was trying to explain to Jake Tapper why he was unwilling to predict a conviction, and he got Van Jones to co-sign that position.
We share the same lack of faith because we bear the same battle scars.
Jody Armor, a law professor at USC, normalized this for me when I called him after the verdict. “We, as black Americans, have been so often victims of gaslighting by white America, through its representatives in the jury box,” he explained, checking off a list of trials for police abuse in which the jurors did not convict.
It also echoed my feelings about how the King verdict made us unable to trust the justice system to deal with police abuse.
“We had seen them on videotape savagely beat Rodney King. And when the shots hit the jury … they told black Americans that they couldn’t trust their own eyes.
“That’s why you and I and all of us, on some level, are stuck,” Armor said. “It is not an irrational fear that we have; it’s a very rational response to what we’ve seen. We have become accustomed to acquittals, regardless of the weight of evidence. “
I now realize how damaging it was, but on Tuesday a ray of hope crept in, as the judge questioned the 12 jury members after the verdicts were read.
Calling out their jury numbers individually, each juror responded “Yes” when asked if they agreed with the convictions.
And there was something about the strength of those voices, the notes of their accents, the proof of their solidarity that shattered my fear and my cynicism.
I cried at my desk, as I did 29 years ago. But those tears were fueled by hope, not betrayal.