Don’t Let Bad-Faith Conservatives Refocus the Narrative

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Issue 15, Volume 111

By Jacob Steinberg 

Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts for the killing of George Floyd. Floyd’s killing struck a nerve across the United States and the world, causing thousands of global protests over police brutality and systemic racism. The conviction of Chauvin has reopened the controversy over the killing and reignited the push to change American police.

Many were elated by the conviction as they found it relieving to finally see a police officer held accountable for killing a Black man. Others did not match that joy as they expected a case this clear-cut to receive justice. Though it is undoubtedly fantastic that Floyd’s family received justice, this instance was as obvious of a police brutality case as there is. The murder was filmed with little ambiguity to the actions taken by any involved persons. Though the result is justice, it is not progress. The goals of equality movements should expand beyond the base need of a functioning society: fair rulings under the law. However, many were unhappy for a very different reason, with prominent conservatives protesting the outcome of the verdict.

This reaction was preempted by many of the same conservatives claiming that there would be violence no matter the outcome of the case, a reference to the often exaggerated number of protests that ended up in property damage during the Black Lives Matter protests. Regardless, people like Republican representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina were not dissuaded from stoking fears and predicting rioting and looting whether Chauvin was found guilty or not. Though violence as a response to an acquittal would surely not be unprecedented, it is clear that no sorts of violence resulted from the guilty verdict.

Despite this lack of violence, conservatives continued the narrative of mobs affecting the verdict. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida slyly implied that the verdict may have come “because the jury is scared of what a mob may do” and that it’s “antithetical to the rule of law.”

Prominent media figure Candace Owens referred to “mob justice” and said, “This was not a fair trial. No person can say this was a fair trial.”

Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld tied in the aforementioned pre-verdict narrative, saying, “I’m glad [Chauvin] was found guilty on all charges, even if he might not be guilty of all charges. I am glad that he is guilty of all charges because I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.” A stunning number of conservative figures in the media and government alike found themselves arguing against the carriage of justice.

This reaction is extremely dangerous. The thesis of mob justice by itself is purely ridiculous. The verdict was meted out by a sequestered jury that, by rule, could not be affected by outside forces. With nobody having knowledge of the makeup of the jury and the jury having no ability to connect to outside factors, it is hard to believe that the jury had a fear of repercussions when making their decision. If the deceit was not enough to condemn this line of attack as concerning, the stature of the people parroting this theory only makes it worse. When major names and loud voices come out against the carriage of justice, their bases listen. The accusation of injustice will ring with those who majorly favor the police in brutality cases, and the media perspective, as it so often does, will likely spill into the Republican party line, undermining the trust in the justice system and inflaming the already contentious tensions.

Conservative commentators and politicians who have built a career on maligning equality movements should not be given the benefit of the doubt when they complain about justice being achieved for Black Americans. They are rooting against the people being killed, offering an explanation other than the confirmed guilt of the people who killed them and pulling their followers away from justice and toward an anti-protest, anti-liberal, and pro-police mindset that offers police what amounts to free protection from a sizeable portion of the country. With hundreds of Black Americans being shot dead by police every year, it is important to hold police accountable for their actions.

By drawing attention away from the verdict and toward the fear of mob violence, these prominent conservatives are depriving America of the time to focus on how the verdict can be made actionable. Though not revolutionary by itself, Chauvin’s conviction fed the momentum to relaunch the fight for more responsible and rethought policing. We should make sure to combat the dangerous allegations of mob justice by publically reaffirming the importance of a functioning and accurate justice system. However, it is also important to re-engage in the important battle for equality when given such a clear and impactful opportunity to do so. Though prominent conservatives are trying to muddy the waters on a crucial issue, we must push through and win improvements.