Accept the Verdict

It may be only a matter of hours, at most days, before the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial delivers a verdict. Whatever it is, I’ll accept it.

When we demand justice in a given case we cannot possibly be saying that we demand a conviction. If that were true, then why bother with the trial at all? What I mean when I say I want justice is that I want our system to work fairly and properly. It appears to have done so in this case. Chauvin got a fair trial. He had adequate council. The prosecution played tough but honest. The judge was competent and even-handed. Now it’s up to a jury of Chauvin’s peers, half of whom are Black.

It might not be a perfect system, but nobody has come up with a better one. Justice is not an outcome; justice is a process.

I hope the jury finds that the prosecution met its obligations in the Derek Chauvin trial.

Now, I don’t want to be naive (or at least any more so than usual). I understand that an acquittal will not be viewed as just by millions of Americans. There will, no doubt, be protests and a lot of anger. (Along those lines, Rep. Maxine Waters’ comments that protesters should get “more confrontational” were irresponsible.) But if there is an acquittal it’s important to try to remember that the jury’s job was to weigh all the evidence against the very specific standards in the law and against the appropriately high bar for conviction. An acquittal wouldn’t mean that Chauvin was morally right; it would mean that the jury didn’t think that the prosecution had met its legal standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In truth, I can’t help but hope that the prosecution was able to accomplish its aims. An acquittal will once again shake confidence in our system and our systems have been battered enough in the last several years. And there’s no question in my mind that Chauvin went too far — in a human, moral sense — in restraining George Floyd.

But here’s the thing. We can’t say that our systems work only when they deliver the outcomes we want. That would be just the same as claiming that our electoral system is rigged when a certain president doesn’t win reelection.

So, for the sake of rebuilding confidence in the American system of justice, I hope that the prosecution in the Chauvin case has done its job. But I will respect any verdict delivered by those citizens on the jury.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Accept the Verdict

  1. My dad had a saying when someone threw around the term “we”: Got a mouse in your pocket? In other words, who is the “we” you mean when you say “the outcomes we want”? White guys like yourself who have never been in the position of fearing for your life when a police officer has you in custody?
    How many unarmed Black men have been killed by white police officers? How many of those officers have been convicted of murder and are serving time in prison? Do you think that number represents real justice? Aren’t you aware that the actual law, written as it is by white men and refined over decades, deliberately makes it easy for the overwhelmingly white police force to quite literally get away with murder?
    The system IS rigged because white men decided they were not going to “accept the verdict” as you advise here. At any time in history when the outcomes weren’t what white men wanted, they changed the system! If you don’t agree with that, you don’t understand or agree with the notion that systemic racism is a problem in this country and has led to vast racial inequities.
    You don’t have to support defunding the police to be on board with examining and rewriting police protection laws in this country, state and city to increase the likelihood that a court will deliver REAL justice when an officer guns down an unarmed citizen. In Madison, these guys don’t even lose their jobs. Try to empathize with the people who have a hard time accepting that, to say nothing of a verdict.


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