People march for Black life. But who marches for the principle of non-harming and non-killing?
While mourning the life of Daunte Wright, yet another Black man killed by a Minnesota police officer, people in the Twin Cities are now waiting for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd sparked massive, multigenerational peaceful protests, the burning and destruction of cities and neighborhoods, and citizen-led attacks against police and governmental structures, banks, and local businesses in and around the Twin Cities, helping to initiate a long-overdue 21st-century reckoning with the ugly and death-dealing reality of race and anti-Blackness in the United States. Without a doubt, hundreds of millions of people rightfully demand justice.
But what if justice is not a solution? What if instead of placing all of our eggs in the basket of the American criminal justice system, we instead lean into the deep uncertainty and groundlessness of this moment in history, energized by a society that is moving toward a fuller, more comprehensive awareness of what needs to change? Ironically, I’m finding some peace that this perpetual state of unease is impermanent and, like all things, the result of infinite causes and conditions. Buddhism offers us this insight while things are, as Pema Chӧdrӧn might say, falling apart. This, considering the long and brutal history of injustice against Black people in the United States, is a good thing.
There are three potential outcomes to Derek Chauvin’s trial. The first is that Chauvin is found not guilty, either of second-degree unintentional murder or the lesser charges of third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter. After deliberating, the jury might find that Chauvin was well within his rights to exercise deadly force in subduing Floyd while handcuffed and in a prone position with Chauvin’s knee on his back and neck for more than nine minutes. This outcome is the most likely outcome, and one that will allow Chauvin to go on about his life. Chauvin will no doubt be hated and reviled by many, but he will be able to travel, work, and commune with people of like mind, culture, and values.
Those hurt and outraged by a not-guilty verdict will protest, organizing acts of civil unrest until their rage dissipates. People will continue to shout and chant and post slogans like Black Lives Matter! We will live life trauma-ghosted, carrying a deep and terrifying sense that another killing of an unarmed Black person can happen at any day and time. People hoping for justice will stand at the ready, like soldiers on a battlefield, waiting to be called back into the streets to protest another police killing.
Sadly, such an outcome for Chauvin aligns with the outcomes of several police officers who have killed Black men in Minnesota, including Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile, a 28-year-old St. Paul native who was my first cousin’s first cousin. Or Jamar Clark, who at 24 was shot and killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Dustin Schwarze. No charges were filed against Schwarze nor another responding officer, Mark Ringgenberg, with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman deciding against filing charges against the officers, even though bystanders say Clark was shot in the head while handcuffed. No charges in spite of the thousands of protestors, including me, my children, and neighbors occupying the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis for several weeks demanding justice.
A second potential outcome is a “hung jury”—which means the jury will not be able to reach a verdict. In this situation, Chauvin will be released and able to resume his life; millions will organize and pressure for a retrial, which may or may not occur, and the nation will be left with a deep and pervading sense of unfinished business. We will hold our breath and clench our jaws and often live our lives tight with repressed rage. Underlying this vicarious sense of incompleteness, feelings of resentment and deep mistrust will simmer just below the boiling point until these emotions explode with yet another police shooting, and police officers will retain their right to use deadly force.
The third outcome is that Chauvin is found guilty, and be sentenced to up to 40 years in state prison if he’s convicted of the maximum charge against him (second-degree murder). And, like other police officers who have killed Black people, he’s likely to be released early…