Commentary by Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director

We’ve been holding our breath for 11 months. 

It started when we all watched the video of the public lynching of Mr. George Floyd last May 25. For 9 minutes and 29 seconds, we watched as former police officer Derek Chauvin put his full body weight on the neck of Floyd.

Sandra Long Weaver Tennessee Tribune Editorial Director
Photo by PJ Fischer

We heard Mr. Floyd say over and over again that he could not breathe. He even called out for his deceased mother. We saw Chauvin put his hands in his pockets and look into the camera with a smirk on his face.  But he did not stop kneeling on Mr. Floyd. He continued to kneel on his neck even after he was dead. 

We continued to hold our breath during the murder trial of Chauvin over the last three weeks as witnesses, including police officials, testified against Chauvin. 

And we grew anxious during the 10 hours the jury deliberated before convicting him on all three counts of murder. With the video and all of the evidence against Chauvin, we knew it was not a certainty that he would be convicted. But the diverse jury of three Black men, one Black woman, two women who identified as multiracial, two white men and four white women made the right decision.

Now we breathe. We breathe because justice was upheld for this one Black man who was murdered by police for possibly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. We breathe because this former police officer was made accountable for murdering George Floyd.

We wish there had been accountability for the murders of Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and the list goes on. Black people are treated differently in this country by the police.

Unfortunately, a 16-year-old girl in Columbus, Ohio was shot dead by police just as the murder conviction for Chauvin was being announced. Investigation into that incident is just beginning.

We have to take a long, deep breath because we have much more work to do. We need the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to become the law of the land. It would be the first step toward national policing reform. 

The Act, which has passed the House and is now in the hands of the Senate, prohibits racial profiling on every level of law enforcement, bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants. It would institute a national police misconduct registry and overhaul legal protections currently afforded to law enforcement known as qualified immunity.

We need to push Tennessee U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty to support the Act so it can move out of the Senate to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

We need to advocate for our state and local officials to modernize policing policies. And we need to vote in the right people who will make these changes. This is why the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is so important 

We celebrate the conviction but Mr. George Floyd is still dead.  His family is still grieving the loss of their son, father, brother, uncle, life partner. There is still a sadness hanging over all of us.

We’ll start holding our breath again as we await the judge’s decision eight weeks from now on the sentencing. Chauvin could receive as much as 40 years in jail but there are variables that could mean he could serve only 12 years. 

So yes, we can now breathe. But just for a moment. We still have work to do. This was justice for one Black man killed at the hands of the police. His Black life did matter. And because his life mattered, the lives of all Americans matter.