Minnesota Humanities Center

The Work Ahead

Posted April 23, 2021

In the span of less than seven years, Minnesota has been the site of several high–profile incidents involving the use of deadly force against African American men by law enforcement – Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, George Floyd, and most recently Daunte Wright.

When the trial of former police officer Derrick Chauvin for the murder of Mr. George Perry Floyd was submitted to the jury, the collective exhaustion and weariness could be felt throughout the entire community.

When the jury came back after a short deliberation, as someone who has previously tried cases, I suspected this meant there was not going to be a split decision. In the African American community, people could only afford themselves the feeling of being cautiously optimistic as the pain of past disappointment has been far too common.  

When the judge announced the guilty verdicts, I was relieved that I would not have to explain to my sons why they should continue to have faith in the system. I was also relieved that the prayers of Darnella Frazier were heard after her extraordinary acts of courage and bravery.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison stated, “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice – and now the cause of justice is in your hands, and when I say ‘your hands,’ I mean the hands of the people of the United States.” Yes, a measure of accountability has been restored in Minnesota.

I was grateful that the President of the United States Joe Biden acknowledged in his remarks to the nation that such convictions were far too rare in our history.  I also appreciated how he called upon us to address “systemic racism, [that] is a stain on our nation’s soul,” [and noted that] the battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push and pull for more than 240 yeas – a tug of war between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart.”

In the aftermath of the verdict, there is a palpable sense of urgency and energy to take on the work ahead of all of us.  After the death of Mr. George Floyd nearly one year ago, I wrote:

The work of creating a just society for all does not happen by accident. The work of a just society requires all of us to play a part in advancing the cause of justice.

We will continue to convene people and organizations to honestly examine the entire and complete history of race in our country.

We will continue to strive toward connecting people so that we see and understand how all of our lives are intertwined in a garment of mutual destiny.

We will continue to work toward being a catalyst for bringing about a more perfect union and positive change in our society.

Then we will double our effort.

Achieving justice and addressing the nation’s soul is the work of our time. With the dawn of a new day of accountability, let us all continue moving this work forward with our hearts and minds. We march toward justice.

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Christopher P. Lehman Headshot
By: Christopher P. Lehman

Christopher P. Lehman is a Professor of Ethnic Studies at St. Cloud State University.