This past year has been one of both reward and extreme challenge. It has been a year marked by a global pandemic and a national reckoning over racial injustices and calls for police accountability. For people of color, especially African Americans, this has been a year of feeling unsafe and having pleas for justice go unheard. Thus, we greeted the murder conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd with relief and a sense of vindication. At least one call for justice, in the form of holding an officer accountable for excessive policing, was answered. We have moved a step closer to realizing true social justice.
These positive feelings, however, are tempered by grief over the loss of George Floyd. His life, and the lives of many others lost during encounters with law enforcement, mattered. They were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends to the many who loved them and miss them still. Their lives should be remembered as more than hashtags or symbols.
Let’s keep our eyes on the bigger picture even as we savor the dose of accountability that resulted in this one case. Let’s use this victory as encouragement to keep working toward a just and more equitable society for all of us. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We have a ways to go before we reach justice, a point where people of color are treated equitably in the criminal justice system and in society. But as this police officer’s conviction shows, we are moving closer to it all the time. Let’s be encouraged by the single victories. Let’s renew our efforts to turn individual feats into societal change.
We have an opportunity for a new beginning, and it will take all of us to improve the conditions that are at the core of the kind of reckless, ongoing, disregard for Black lives that we are witnessing on a regular basis.
Dr. Paul Pitre, Chancellor
Washington State University Everett
& Everett University Center