For Black America, the Derek Chauvin verdict hits on a spiritual level

Opinion: George Floyd is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on in a firm and damning guilty verdict that means so much to a community terrorized by violence.

A large painting depicting the face of George Floyd
A large painting depicting the face of George Floyd stands at a memorial site outside Cup Foods on June 3, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

There is something soul-stirring about the Black church. When you grow up as I did, and many of us did in Black spaces of worship, there is no place, no singing, no rhythm, no comfort, no experience quite like the booming voice of the Black Pastor, the Black choir singing, and the church lady’s big hats swaying as they fan themselves and nod their heads.

We are a praying people. We are a forgiving people. And we are spiritual warrior people; when everything comes against us, we wage war in the spirit. 

Justice was served in Minneapolis Tuesday in a deeply spiritual way. George Floyd is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on in a firm and damning guilty verdict that is the first of its kind in the United States in a midwestern state known for police aggression and violence against Black men.

Read More: Darnella Frazier says she ‘cried so hard’ at Chauvin verdict

Derek Chauvin Murder Trial For Death Of George Floyd Continues In Minneapolis
Demonstrators march through downtown on April 9, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts as charged. He will likely appeal, but if the verdict is upheld, he will serve many decades in prison. Likely for the rest of his natural life. As the prosecution said as he closed his arguments on Monday:

“You were told that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. And now having seen all the evidence and heard all the evidence you know the truth. That the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.” 

That is at the end of the day the crux of the case of the people vs. Derek Chauvin. He was a small man. A racist man. A hate-filled, cold, heartless man. And in being so, he took the life of George Floyd in less than 10 minutes by placing a knee on his neck, and literally choking the life out of him. You see that is what racism will do for you. It will take you out of your right mind. It will take you out of your humanity. It will take you to a place so dark, that in killing another man with your hate, you will in essence be killing yourself.

Derek Chauvin needs prayer. He got his due process and his day in court and now has been found guilty on all counts. But as he stood there today, expressionless, no remorse, no statement of sorrow during his defense, I realized he is more than a convicted felon, he is a man who truly has lost his way.

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments. (Credit: AP)

Now that the verdict has been rendered, the hard work begins. The killing of unarmed Black women and men will not stop tomorrow, or next year. It may not stop in my lifetime. But I am confident today that it will stop someday. I am confident today that laws will change. I am confident today that there will be meaningful police reforms. I am confident today that tens of millions of our fellow white citizens here in the United States and millions more around the globe were likewise relieved and standing in solidarity with the plight of all Black people. 

George Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, said “My daddy changed the world,” and she was right. His death did and so will the just trial of his murderer. It wasn’t simply justice that won; faith won and so did our collective faith as a people. Church for us has always been more than just a place of worship. Church for us has been our safe haven from slavery, from Jim Crow, and from modern-day racism. Church for us is our sanctuary from injustice, poverty, suffering and from centuries of racial violence and trauma.

Black families fleeing on foot as they ran north, pursued by dogs and slave patrols (the forerunner to our modern policing systems in the south and border states) would often stop on the underground railroad at churches who would feed and clothe them and give them a short place to rest. The plight of being Black in America is one that goes hand in hand with our faith and our devotion to the church. 

A woman stands during the Martin Luther King, Jr. annual commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. (Branden Camp)

To my white fellow citizens who never understand why we always have reverends with us or ministers during these public trials, or why you see the families of victims of white violence say they “forgive” the perpetrators, it is because we live with the specter of death every day — and that is not hyperbole. We know that we can be stopped in a car, at the store, while walking, while shopping, while sitting, while eating, or while doing nothing at all.

And we know that no matter our station in life, our credentials matter not, as evidenced by the violent police encounter of Lt. Caron Nazario in Windsor, Virginia. A dangerous, jittery, impolite, aggressive white police officer with a badge is all it takes to end up as another sad hashtag.

We all know the 23rd Psalm by heart — “the lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … yea though I walk through the valley of death” — because we walk in that deadly valley every day. Yes, we have come a long way since slavery. But Tuesday’s guilty verdict says we have come even farther than we knew.

My thoughts and my prayers are with the family of George Floyd. And my heart is with my country as we begin the process of a spiritual awakening of brotherhood that we must all face, or we will never seize this moment and heal our great land. 

Sophia Nelson

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio.

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