I have good news. Actually, it is great news. We do not have to wait for legal accountability for justice to prevail.
When I heard the verdict from Derek Chauvin’s trial, my first thought was about George Floyd and his family. I felt a huge rush of relief that Floyd’s loved ones will not have to suffer the false and painful belief that he was of little or no value; that the horrendous transgression on his being was not offensive enough to warrant legal accountability. To believe yourself, those you care about or others are of less value is mentally, emotionally and spiritually crushing. While the guilty verdict is mitigative, it does not have the power to advance that sweet justice we crave. That power is ours.
Twenty-nine years ago on May 1, 1992, my brother Sammy, a biracial man who identified as Black, was murdered in a Hyde Park home. Shortly after my brother was killed, we (Sammy’s family) were informed by detectives in the sheriff’s office and the District Attorney’s Office that they were confident they knew who killed Sammy, who was involved in providing the house, who lured him to that house and the motive. Later, we were informed that the murder weapon, a shotgun used to kill Sammy with multiple blasts at close range, had been found after being used by the same suspects in a subsequent murder. The suspects in the murder of Sammy were convicted in the second murder.
Today, none of the people involved in killing my brother have met with legal accountability. It has become clear to me that there is an absence of commitment, or perhaps ability, to hold accountable all those involved in the killing of my brother, and so the murder of Sammy remains unsolved.
Years ago, when New Mexico murdered murderers by way of the death penalty, I was told that even if the suspects were convicted, they would never get the death penalty because, “Sammy wasn’t important enough.” Those words, along with inaction from our good law enforcement people, planted a painful and false belief in me that Sammy was of little or no value.
After hearing the Chauvin verdict, my thoughts and concern extended to Floyd’s community. I also thought about Chauvin in an isolated cell and about those who love him. My compassion extended to him and his community. I have been thinking about all of us who have been significantly impacted by violence and other mistreatments followed by no accountability. My concern includes my immediate community and those of us perhaps less impacted by acts of violence or other violations.
From the horrifying murder of Sammy, I have come to experience a deep sense of justice by asking when is it instead of where is it. Justice is when people from the same and different communities come together to bear witness to one another’s pain. Justice is when we listen to one another with curiosity and concern instead of doubling down or hunkering down in our familiar echo chambers. It is when we choose to listen to one another and believe there is an issue even when “it’s not our problem.” Justice is when we are willing to sit with one another or protest alongside each other in a shared commitment to an equitable and safer society. Justice is when we pause to better understand why we believe what we believe instead of automatically believing what we think. It is connecting with the hope, fear, joy and sorrow of one another instead of disconnecting because we do not understand or lack the knowledge from living an experience different from our own. Justice is committing to being and doing better as individuals so that we design and all benefit from systems and structures that promote everyone’s well-being, no matter who you are. This is well within our power. Isn’t that great news?