Messaging mistakes in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict

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:”

Nancy Pelosi literally thanking George Floyd pic.twitter.com/Hmkv20EFbT

— HARD FACTOR (@HardFactorNews) April 20, 2021

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

George Floyd should be alive today. His family’s calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world. He did not die in vain. We must make sure other families don’t suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicing Act. https://t.co/tWln9NRg1g

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) April 20, 2021

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:

It’s wild how easy it would’ve been to not tweet this. https://t.co/yfGQTfMcwA

— jason c. (@netw3rk) April 20, 2021

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

National Hockey League Statement following today’s verdict in Minneapolis. pic.twitter.com/hODghaQ25H

— NHL (@NHL) April 20, 2021

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:”

Oh, that George Floyd were still alive.

But I’m thankful for accountability.

The work continues.

Justice is a continuum.

And America must bend with the moral arc of the universe, which bends toward justice.

— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 20, 2021

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:”

Justice has been served.

— David Marcus (@davidmarcus) April 20, 2021

The thing that was so chilling about the George Floyd death scene was Chauvin’s defiant stare at horrified bystanders as he kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Today, a jury stared back. Chauvin stands convicted of murder.
Justice was done.

— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 20, 2021

Our justice system has prevailed today. Let today’s verdict not only be relief, but a demand for further action to end systemic racism & social injustices. Sending our prayers and love to the family of George Floyd.

— Anthony Noto (@anthonynoto) April 20, 2021

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.

Repair begins with accountability. We still have so far to go. I am grateful for this verdict and devastated that George Floyd is not here today. We keep fighting. ❤️

— Brené Brown (@BreneBrown) April 20, 2021

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.

A reminder that victory would be George Floyd being alive. Every day Black Americans worry if they will be next is another day without justice.

— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) April 20, 2021

We will never begin to achieve true justice for George Floyd until our country completely transforms public safety to save Black lives and reduce racist police violence.

— ACLU (@ACLU) April 20, 2021

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:

Justice requires accountability, but accountability alone must not be confused with justice. Derek Chauvin now faces accountability. George Floyd was denied justice the moment Chauvin’s knee took his last breath. (1/4)

— Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) April 21, 2021

Finding one officer guilty does not exonerate a legal system that has perpetually brutalized Black and Brown communities. (2/4)

— Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) April 21, 2021

Let this be a turning point for us to stop addressing our society’s challenges with over-policing and begin to build a new system of public safety that creates healthier and safer communities for all. (3/4)

— Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) April 21, 2021

Tonight, we hold the Floyd family in our thoughts. Tomorrow, with increased rigor, the work to achieve justice continues. (4/4)

— Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) April 21, 2021

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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