The jury has found Derek Chauvin guilty, and it’s reassuring to see the breadth of agreement, including from law enforcement, that the former Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd was beyond the pale.
But the Chauvin matter is only one case, and it involved an officer’s actions captured on excruciating video that were so repellent and glaring that their criminality couldn’t be denied. This case, by itself, won’t bring about the needed systemic transformation the nation needs to effectively curb police abuses, achieve constructive police relations with minority communities and bring about substantive reform so that Americans of color have confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system.
The welcome calls for racial progress from so many Americans in the wake of the Chauvin verdict offer an important opportunity. But words will not be enough. Time and again over the decades, our society has offered promises of needed change on these matters, but without delivering that change.
Action — collaborative, constructive, wide-ranging and sustained — must follow this week’s verdict. Otherwise, the broader hopes raised by the Chauvin verdict will remain unrealized.
Achieving this progress is a vital task, and it falls broadly across our country and here in Omaha. Communities must be in dialogue about ways to reach a common understanding of improper police actions and agreement on criminal justice improvements. Local law enforcement must be proactive in adopting a responsible culture that prevents abuses and builds public trust. Elected leaders must encourage positive community relations, pass laws and ordinances for real change and promote economic development for all.
Omaha can point to a measure of progress on these scores. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has promoted greater openness and community outreach. Many Omaha officers, especially Black and Latino officers, have built strong relationships with local families by coaching youth activities. The Omaha Police Department has banned chokeholds and adopted other needed changes in training.
Which isn’t to say that Omaha has achieved the needed level of progress. A hearing in Omaha by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee was replete with impassioned complaints from minority residents about police practices they find unfair and abusive. Omaha has yet to show it can bring about a local police oversight process that’s energetic. And the major need to create a public database on improper behavior by Omaha police personnel remains shamefully ignored.
Individual Omahans have their responsibilities, too. The hopes for progress will remain out of reach as long as residents, of whatever racial background, embrace prejudice. Local radio personality Chris Baker contributed to this problem Tuesday when he tweeted an abhorrent racist image in the wake of the Minneapolis jury decision.
So many times in the past, our country has seen high-profile examples of terrible racial injustice, but then let the opportunity for progress slip away. The murder of George Floyd and the jury finding against Chauvin provide a new chance for that needed change.