Messaging mistakes in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict

After jurors found Chauvin guilty of all charges, some organizations and public figures jumped into the fray with ill-considered statements.

April 20 marked the end of the legal drama surrounding the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis a year ago. However, the issues that underpin the national conversation about the tragedy—including systemic racism and police misconduct—remain unresolved.

While a guilty verdict might offer some solace to Floyd’s family, the rush by many organizations to celebrate a victory has felt inappropriate—and users on social media are voicing their displeasure.

There were plenty of critiques for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement thanking George Floyd for “sacrificing himself for justice:”

Pelosi later tried to clean up her statement, reframing her remarks to reflect her belief that George Floyd “did not die in vain.”

Sports franchises, athletes and leagues have been increasingly vocal on issues of race and social justice, with organizations such as the NBA warning stakeholders to prepare for league action ahead of the verdict Tuesday. However, the attempt to treat the Chauvin verdict as a social media meme missed the point entirely:

The statements that were more successful took the long view on the work ahead to deconstruct systemic oppression and racism.

Others used the words of famous speeches from the civil rights movement, such as Martin Luther King’s quote about the “moral arc of the universe:”

Accountability vs. justice

While there were many who took the verdict as a moment to claim a win for the justice system in America, those statements missed the mark for others involved in the fight for criminal justice reform.

Business leaders and public figures proclaimed “justice was served:”

Some leaders and public figures noted that the verdict and the end of the trial was not “justice served”— but rather a moment of accountability.

For many, justice or victory would be achieved only if George Floyd were still alive, and if the police killings of Black men and women were stopped.

This nuance comes from the concepts around “restorative justice”—a legal framework that argues for healing and repairing a harmed community rather than focusing on doling out punishment to transgressors and lawbreakers.

The Centre for Justice & Reconciliation explains:

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.

The fight continues

This issue won’t disappear from the headlines any time soon. Even as the trial for Derek Chauvin came to a close, another Black man, Daunte Wright, was killed by police in Minneapolis. Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy, was killed by police in Chicago March 29. Just yesterday, an officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a teenage girl who was holding a knife.

To see how companies can thoughtfully respond to issues related to race and social injustice, you can look to Ben & Jerry’s, which has been a leading voice since its statement condemning white supremacy in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Here’s how they responded yesterday:

For organizations still wondering if they should make a statement about the end of the Chauvin trial, there’s still a moment to offer prayers and condolences to George Floyd’s family, to demand justice and to offer support to the people of color in your community.

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