OPINION: Derek Chauvin found guilty: It’s not a celebration —it’s a relief.

In eight weeks, Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer who murdered George Floyd, will be sentenced. As just about everyone now knows, George Floyd was killed in 2020 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by Chauvin’s knee in an episode that was captured on video, touching off nationwide protests.

The murder of George Floyd spoke to a truly alarming trend — one in which Black men and women are killed indiscriminately by police officers. These officers have rarely been held to account for their actions. Until yesterday. 

After about a day of deliberations, the jury found Chauvin guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was read a little after 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday, April 20. 

Cities around the country had braced for the worst. The expectation was that if Chauvin were acquitted, protesters would once again take to the streets to raise their voices against racial injustice.

Many of us hoped to see Chauvin held accountable. Still, history has shown us too often that officers aren’t generally held responsible for their actions against Black Americans. But in an astonishing move, Chauvin was found guilty. 

Some of us had struggled to process these events, especially in the surreal past year when protests mixed with the pandemic in a truly contentious time in American history. It seemed like everything was debatable; everything was politically charged. 

There were times in this past year where I was angry. Angry at fellow citizens for their cruelty and selfishness. I was also angry at our shared history and the inability or unwillingness of many people to take responsibility for a truly broken justice system. 

It’s always hard to have conversations about race. It’s hard to admit that our country was built on the backs of slaves and that discrimination persists. It’s hard to come to terms with reality, particularly when our history books have been whitewashed. 

Many of us were taught to avoid these topics growing up. Generations of Caucasian Americans were taught that talking about racism was uncouth; it was to be avoided.

But the Chauvin trial and that heart-wrenching video of Chauvin murdering Floyd have forced some, but not all of us, to face reality. Still, we must do better. 

In the last year, I had many conversations with friends in Africa about what was happening in America. It was hard to explain to them what was happening and why because there’s no way to understand the situation without tracing our history, without explaining where we went wrong and how many times we’ve done so. 

“Why don’t they like us?” was one question I heard many times from Black African men in previous months, and I have genuinely struggled to respond. It would have been easy to say, “I don’t know.” But upon recognizing that this was an opportunity to have difficult conversations, to complicate the narratives if you will, I elected to do my best to answer these questions. 

Now I don’t know if I did it right. That’s important to admit. There are certainly people who would do a better job at explaining racism than I. It’s especially hard to speak to an experience that I can’t claim. As a white American protestant woman from New England, I have never feared for my life when getting pulled over by police. I don’t have to worry about the same safety issues as my Black friends, and that’s painful. It makes you feel guilty by association. 

But here is one thing I am sure of — we will not get better, and we won’t heal if we don’t try to understand our collective history. If we don’t think about the experiences of those who are different than us, we will never improve. Worse still, we will allow ourselves to continue to bury our heads in the sand because the topic of racism is challenging; it hurts. That’s especially dangerous. 

I hope that this is a jumping-off point. I hope that teachers take this opportunity to answer student’s questions. I hope that clergy will preach powerful sermons on tolerance and love. I hope that journalists do a better job of sharing real stories of Black and minority populations — that don’t hinge on crime or rely on mugshots. I hope we give each other a helping hand. I hope we come to the table ready to offer each other a seat instead of sitting bullheaded with arms crossed, acting like we have nothing to learn from each other.

I hope that we all do a hefty amount of reading and listening in the coming years and that we can one day admit our system is broken if we’re not able to right now.  

Yesterday as I watched the verdict being read in the Chavin case, I started crying. I said to my family, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.” And it’s true. I and millions of others wanted to see Chauvin found guilty not because we delight in someone’s downfall but because accountability is the first step towards justice. If we don’t hold our most powerful and corrupt citizens to account for murder, then what are we doing here? How can we claim to be just? How can we claim to be civil?

I expected to feel happy at the news, but I didn’t. I felt relief. Those are two distinct emotions. Relief is alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress or oppression. That perfectly sums up how I’ve felt since the verdict was read. I am relieved that there is some accountability for a corrupt police officer’s actions. I am relieved that we don’t have to watch cities burn. I am relieved that police officers everywhere are taking a hard look at their towns, their training, and their practices and procedures. I am relieved that it feels like finally, after centuries, we may be making the kind of progress I expect from this country. 

That’s not to say this is over. Three more officers will go to trial in August. Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, all of whom were fired and arrested days after Floyd died last May, face charges at a trial on August 23 that they aided and abetted second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd.

And again, I find no joy in these trials — none whatsoever. My heart goes out to their families. But we must rise above our discomfort. 

We must reckon with the past. We must hold people accountable and seek justice in this case and every other. I envision a world where my friends don’t have to fear the police, where they get treated the same way I do. But like it or not, we have miles to go before that happens. 

It’s no time to fall asleep at the wheel. We have to push through the pain and give Black Americans the relief and justice they deserve.