Nearly a year after the killing of George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, was found guilty on counts of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
In this moment, America sees justice. After weeks of a harrowing trial, a multi-racial jury determined Chauvin’s actions far exceeded acceptable use of force. Throughout testimony from 45 witnesses, we saw key members of the Minneapolis Police Department testify against Chauvin for committing this murderous act. While this is one trial, it shows that society — and law enforcement officers themselves — recognize the need to hold our institutions accountable.
Yet, despite today’s verdict bringing justice for George Floyd, he no longer is with us or his family. The killings of George Floyd and many other unarmed Black Americans — against the backdrop of a pandemic disproportionately affecting minority communities — is a wake-up call that was long overdue. It has thrust into focus the legacy of racism and discrimination that persists in the U.S.
Following this verdict, I imagine you want to see even more meaningful change, as I do. You may feel compelled to take action. After all, our community is bound together by a shared desire to make a positive difference in the world. Yet, I've found myself wondering: Can our divisions ever be healed? Can our country ever be whole? What kind of change needs to happen, and who is up to lead that task?
The work of our faculty, as well as scholars across the country, is one area of effort that gives me hope. In particular, I would like to highlight Jonathan Mummolo's research, which should inform police reform. Jonathan is currently leading a project focused on developing cutting-edge statistical techniques to measure racial bias in policing, evaluate policing policy reforms, and improve the performance of policing organizations.
Of the trial and his work, Jonathan said: "The senseless killing of George Floyd and subsequent public response underscores that it is long past time to address not only the biases and abuses of individual police officers, but also the systems and institutions in which they operate. There is a critical need for rigorous evidence on how to effectively promote public safety while preventing the brutality that has plagued marginalized communities throughout U.S. history."
As a policy school, we must follow in Mummolo’s footsteps and turn toward what we know: how to inform, propose, and evaluate policies and reforms rooted in evidence-based research. How must policing change? How can we heal the seemingly impenetrable divide between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially our marginalized communities? How does this connect to racial biases embedded in related policy areas such as health care, housing, and employment? I'm sure you're thinking about these questions as deeply as I am.
Resources are available for you during this time. To our graduate students, I encourage you to attend a listening circle session set up by Laura De Olden, where you’ll be able to share your reactions and feelings in a safe, supportive space. I also invite our entire community to register for a May 17, 2021 panel hosted by the Office of Population Research — The State of the Nation: The State of Black America.
I have faith in our community to continue working toward our mission: to serve the nation and all of humanity. That begins with each of us considering how we are equipped to make a difference — and continues with our School supporting public policy that improves the lives of all.