Today, with the triple conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin, we witnessed justice and accountability. We saw a glimpse of the possibility that justice could be pursued in our country, for every single American. It’s not something we’ve witnessed often, but today is a day that history will remember. And while this verdict is a good thing –– it’s necessary, it’s cathartic –– it isn’t enough. We have so much work to do. May the memory of George Floyd guide us as we continue this fight.
On May 25, 2020, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, suffocating the life from his body. As he lay dying, George Floyd told Derek Chauvin twenty seven times that he could not breathe, and repeatedly begged for his mother. The whole country watched, as Derek Chauvin disgraced his oath to protect and serve. The whole world watched as yet another Black life was taken by a police officer in the name of law and order.
George Floyd should have had many more years with his family and loved ones. George Floyd’s death is more than the loss of one life, but an indictment of our “justice” system and our country. In moments like this, we are called upon to fight for a world in which people are truly “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963)
The murder of George Floyd was not an isolated incident. For many Black Americans, the police officer acting as judge, jury, and executioner –– over an allegedly fake $20 bill –– felt more like the rule than the exception. The trauma our Black siblings faced watching the murder of George Floyd was compounded by so many other senseless killings of Black Americans in the same year. We say their names: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Rayshard Brooks, Carlos Carson, Tina Marie Davis, Atatiana Jefferson, Manuel Ellis, William Howard Green, Jonathan Price, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Daniel Prude, and so many others –– so many whose deaths were not recorded, whose names we will never know, whose families will forever grieve.
This fight began with Black resistance to the crime of chattel slavery, and continues to this day as Black activists fight for their human rights in the face of mass incarceration, structural racism, and state violence against Black bodies in America. Let us follow the example of Jewish leaders of the past, and fight at their sides. It should not take another murder of a Black person to join the fight for racial justice; in fact, racial justice is a Jewish fight. We need only draw on our own multiracial history of oppression around the globe to know that racial justice is key to our survival, and it is our obligation to fight for the liberation of all who are oppressed.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of blessed memory, was fond of quoting Deutoronomy: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue, that you may live.” (Deut 16:20). George Floyd and so many others should still be alive today. Let us continue to pursue justice in their memory, and ensure that no more Black lives are stolen by a racist system.
Black Lives Matter. Today we feel a glimmer of hope that together, we can ensure those words are a promise kept, and no longer a distant aspiration. And may George Floyd’s memory be for a blessing.