On Tuesday afternoon, a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of accidental second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter in the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd. Across America, in offices, living rooms, and on the streets breathed a sigh of relief – something Floyd was denied for 9 minutes 29 seconds with one knee on the neck and one knee on the back.
Tuesday's ruling brought accountability but not justice. George Floyd was murdered. From the police. In broad daylight. Slowly. Horrible. In view of the public, begging for his breath, for his life. Some bystanders even called the police in hopes of saving his life. But Floyd died and his family will never get him back. Policing in Minneapolis, all of Minnesota, and the United States has been fundamentally broken. It is fundamentally unfair.
A little over a week ago, on April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot dead at close range by police officer Kimberly Potter because of a traffic obstruction. This happened 10 miles from the courthouse where Chauvin was on trial – also for killing an unarmed black man. Wright joined Floyd and nearly 200 other people killed in police encounters in Minnesota since 2000, and more than 9,000 people nationwide, including many blacks, since 2013.
The system that led to Floyd's death was not changed to prevent Wright's death and the deaths of so many others. While accountability for Floyd's death has been made in this case, it is not fair.
The ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants would be justice. Demilitarizing the police and using body cameras would be justice. Collecting and disseminating data on police misconduct would be fair. Community-based policing, where security takes precedence over security, would be justice. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act becomes law – that would be justice too.
Floyd's daughter Gianna Floyd said last year that her "Daddy changed the world". Lawmakers, law enforcement officers, and ordinary citizens can and should all advocate for this ideal.
A few days before the end of the trial, US Representative Maxine Waters urged demonstrators to "become more confrontational" if the jury failed to pronounce guilty for chauvin. Congressional Republicans moved to reprimand them, and Chauvin's attorney moved to a mistrial. None of the attempts were successful, but each indicates a deep distrust of protests and demonstrations of racial justice. But protests and demonstrations initiate changes. This is America's story. This is world history.
I am a human rights scholar and much of my research examines transitional justice in global and comparative perspectives. As I wrote on Foreign Policy, transitional justice includes "judicial and non-judicial measures of accountability – such as truth commissions, reparations, memorials and institutional reforms … to remedy past (and future) human rights abuses". From Argentina and Guatemala to Morocco and Tunisia to the United States, the common people have demanded and won transitional justice.
New data from my research lab shows that since Floyd's assassination and subsequent national and international protests, eight truth commissions have been proposed by policymakers in the United States, states, and states, and three more have started work. Everyone should investigate racist violence and injustice and make political recommendations.
Truth commissions and transitional justice in the broader sense are long overdue in the United States. And they can be part of George Floyd's legacy. You can help the country face structural racism at home and abroad. It's time.