God is Still Speaking,

The Chauvin Verdict

April 21, 2021


“We, the Jury, in the above entitled matter as to count one, Unintentional Second Degree Murder While Committing a Felony, find the defendant Guilty.”

“We, the Jury, in the above entitled matter as to Count Two, Third Degree Murder Perpetrating an Eminently Dangerous Act, find the defendant Guilty. “

“We, the Jury, in the above entitled matter as to Count Three, Second Degree Manslaughter, Culpable Negligence Creating an Unreasonable Risk, find the defendant Guilty.”

Dear Central Atlantic Conference,

Yesterday, a measure of justice was served in the above verdicts in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. I am grateful to God for the prevailing of truth and in the jury’s deliberation leading to this verdict. The jury had the courage to do what is right. And the words in the above judgments resound symbolically with justice not only for George Floyd but for many for whom justice has been delayed and denied at the hands of those sworn to enforce justice.

However, as significant as these verdicts were, they do not take away the pain of the loss experienced by the family of George Floyd and all who knew and loved him. For those of us who have lost loved ones, they will still live with their grief, the anger, and the sorrow, of one taken from them suddenly and senselessly. Perhaps this judgment gives some measure to them, especially some peace, comfort, vindication, and even meaning, in their suffering. George Floyd's 7-year-old daughter Gianna said that 'her daddy changed the world.' I can only pray that he did. But no daughter should have to pay such a price for any change in the world.

And as meaningful as these verdicts were, they also remind us, paraphrasing words from the poet Robert Frost of the ‘miles to go before we sleep’ in the struggle for justice for all who experience injustice at the hands of the police. According to an article in today’s Huffington Post (taken from another piece in the Washington Post), each year on-duty police officers kill approximately 1,000 people. Yet between 2005 and 2019, only 104 officers have been arrested, and of the 104, 35 were convicted. So the Chauvin verdict, as momentous as it was, is more the exception than the rule. And this verdict, rightful as it was, calls us as the church to both speak and to act relentlessly in the pursuit of justice, particularly, in this case, the dismantling and elimination of the systemic racism that permeates law enforcement and our institutions in general. Cornell West famously said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” I believe it is our call as the United Church of Christ in this Conference to make that statement a reality for everyone.

One of my favorite hymns is written lyrically by Harry Emerson Fosdick. I know it well because the founding pastor of my longtime church home, The Riverside Church. So it is has been Riverside’s ‘theme song’ for the ninety years of its existence. I think all the verses are fitting for the Church, but here I’d like to lift especially verses 4 and 5 for this moment as a prayer:

Set our feet on lofty places
Gird our lives that they may be
Armoured with all Christlike graces,
Pledge to set all captives free;
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we fail not them nor thee,
Lest we fail not them nor thee

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore
Let the search for thy salvation
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Serving thee who we adore
Serving thee who we adore

May God bless you and keep you,
Rev. Freeman L. Palmer
Conference Minister