Almost eleven months after George Floyd’s death, a jury of his peers found Derek Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. Sentencing will occur in eight weeks, but his time in prison has already begun.
As one might expect, reactions to the result have varied.
George Floyd’s brother Philonise described it as “a day of celebration” while others, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, stated that the result is “a relief, but the celebration is premature.” Pointing to the decision as a potential turning point in police accountability, Tulsi Gabbard tweeted “Thankfully on the verdict of George Floyd’s murder, justice has prevailed. Moving forward this must be the norm—not the exception.”
President Biden and Vice President Harris praised the decision before quickly pivoting to the work left to be done. And Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison went a step further, stating that the guilty verdict “isn’t justice, it’s just one step towards it;” thoughts echoed by the state’s governor, who added that “justice for George Floyd will come through real systemic change, to prevent this from ever happening again.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Tucker Carlson described the trial’s outcome as the jury’s cry of “Please don’t hurt us.” Candace Owens termed it the result of “mob justice,” pointing to the statement by Rep. Maxine Waters in which she urged protestors to “get more confrontational” in the event of an acquittal as evidence of undue pressures placed on the jury to find Chauvin guilty.
Many more likely find themselves caught somewhere in between: aware that Chauvin’s actions were reprehensible, but perhaps unsure if the outcome of the trial was truly just and mostly just grateful that the proceedings ended with a relatively peaceful response.
Regardless of where you might fall along that spectrum of thought, chances are that it’s relatively close to where you sat before the trial ever began. And while that tendency is natural, especially in a case where so much has been litigated through the media as part of the national discourse for nearly a year, it reveals two potential dangers of which we must be aware.
Don’t trade difficult truths for convenient lies
The first issue is that when we approach a situation with a preconceived notion of what should occur, it becomes very easy to prioritize the truths that best fit with what we want to believe while either ignoring or minimizing those that would challenge our preferred perspective.
For example, those who saw nothing wrong with the calls to violence in the case of an acquittal and argued that they couldn’t have possibly swayed the jury’s conclusions were not viewing the situation objectively. However, those who recognized the potential dangers associated with those threats and concluded that they were the only reason the jury rendered a guilty verdict made a similar error. In both cases, people approached the situation so confident that their point of view was correct, they either distorted or ignored legitimate factors because such realities challenged their preferred understanding of events.
We cannot afford to make that same mistake.
Whether it’s in our response to the Derek Chauvin trial or in any other facet of life, we must remain more committed to the truth than to our preconceived notions.
And every day presents us with the opportunity to do just that. After all, few people in history have defied expectations and circumvented the boxes into which people tried to place him as frequently as the rabbi who preferred the company of sinners over self-proclaimed saints and the messiah who chose the cross over an earthly crown. As Christians called to follow his example, we must avoid the temptation to accept convenient lies over difficult truths, even—and especially—when doing so would better fit with our preferred version of reality.
The second danger against which we must guard is closely related to the first. When we become the foundation upon which our understanding of reality is built, what we want to believe functions as the lens through which we view the world around us. That, in turn, can make it tempting to try to constantly redefine reality to better suit that perspective.
With the Derek Chauvin trial, for example, many of those who have spent the last eleven months rightly crying out for justice on behalf of George Floyd quickly redefined what that justice should look like once the final verdict was read. Floyd became a martyr whose legacy could only be honored if officers involved in other shootings received the same fate as Chauvin or when law enforcement has been completely reformed.
And while the police should be held accountable when they unjustly take a life and there are systemic issues within law enforcement that need to change, shifting the goalposts simply because we need something else to continue driving us and giving us a purpose will ensure that we never experience the peace and fulfillment we crave.
That’s an exhausting way to live.
When Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” that endless pursuit of our self-defined goals is an example of what he wanted to help us avoid (Matthew 11:28–30). It’s only when we accept his yoke and allow him to steer us toward the goals he desires that we can find real peace and the ability to adapt with our circumstances, rather than try to make them adapt to us.
Shaped by God’s truth
Charles Stanley once said, “We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by his truth.”
A quick glance at our culture reveals which path most people have chosen, and the results speak for themselves.
As the fallout from the Derek Chauvin trial continues to build over the coming days, let’s choose the better path and allow God’s truth to shape our response and equip us to help others do the same.