America held its breath.
“Guilty.” “Guilty.” “Guilty.” And the sigh was released.
The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial confirmed what the country already believed: The former Minneapolis police officer had murdered George Floyd. Chauvin was found by a jury of his peers to be guilty of three killing counts associated with the Black man’s untimely death.
The American justice system had done its duty.
And as that justice system was coursing toward the completion of its duty, two of our national leaders were overstepping the bounds of theirs.
President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters were talking.
As jurors in the case were in deliberation, Biden commented publicly that he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict.” And the congresswoman from California opined days earlier that if the right verdict wasn’t rendered, protesters should “get more confrontational.” Each of these national figures should have remained respectfully silent. The chief of the country’s executive branch and a progressive icon in the nation’s legislative branch should have kept their thoughts to themselves while a segment of the judicial branch carried out its solemn responsibility.
America’s justice system rests on the foundational premise of innocent until proven guilty. It relies on the measured confidence of the nation’s citizens. The ill-timed comments from the president and the congresswoman sent undermining messages at a moment of great national tension.
The president’s statement implied that he already knew the right verdict, that the jury’s verdict had the potential to be wrong and, further, that divine intervention may be necessary for the jury to achieve the “right” verdict. Any of these implications seems to evidence a lack of confidence in the American justice system. If the president does lack confidence in his country’s judicial system, that wasn’t the time to express it.
As for the congresswoman’s statement, though she denies it, it seemed a call to violence if the “right” verdict wasn’t delivered. At best, it was an irresponsible comment being made as cities across the nation were preparing for the possibility of violence at the trial’s closing.
Police reform and prison reform are badly needed in the United States. Criminal justice reform is needed, as well. But, for today, our system is all we have, and without it, and respect for it, there is anarchy. Our national leaders should lead the way to reform, not lobby outcomes or prescribe “right” verdicts.