Opinion | The Power of the Muted Reaction to Derek Chauvin's Sentencing

The calm that greeted the Chauvin sentencing contrasts with the 1992 explosion that followed the acquittals of all four Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King to death. This was the first video of police brutality. This verdict sparked civil unrest in L.A. not because it was surprising but because it angered them. The King verdict was for them a further insult. In Kings case, their anger over police misconduct, which had been simmering for years, exploded into rage. The spontaneous protests, looting, and fires were catharsis. But they also demanded change.That was not the moment when the country rose. The 92 unrest prompted soul-searching. However, the fear of urban violence, danger drugs and gangs that surrounded big cities eventually overtook that. However, the desire for racial healing was not as strong as the need for more law and order. Cops played a crucial role in this. Many whites felt that Kings beating and the exoneration from the officers was wrong. However, they did not constitute systemic racism and didn't justify any drastic measures like defunding police department. In fact, there was a complete change: harsher sentencing, longer prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, and the widespread acceptance of incarceration being punitive, but necessary, and seemingly unlimited.The country was in a different place last year. Protests after Floyd's May 2020 murder were angered out of frustration. They involved unprecedented numbers, both white and non-Black, in large and small cities across the country. These protests were a result of frustration. This awakening gave George Floyd a sense of symbolism, and a level of heroism not possible with Rodney King. Floyd was more than a Black victim to police misconduct. He was a tragedy that all of us should share. He was Black and a human being who deserved empathy. Justice is his right. This change in perspective was simple and radical. It was exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. had been searching for all his life, but was unable to grasp: a change.This is a start, even though we can call it progress. This recognition of the full extent of racism has resulted in a proper punishment for Chauvin and hopefully some peace for Floyd's family. The grief over his death and the fear of similar deaths in the near future linger. While they are proud of this rare conviction, all those involved in police reform, from the Minneapolis prosecutors to the advocates for police reform, worry that police brutality and convictions like Chauvins won't stop. George Floyd will never be the same again, but nothing can stop it. After the sentencing, Shareeduh Tate (the cousin of Floyd) said that he didn't think any sentence would suffice. It was not enough to make up for the damage done.Derek Chauvin could have made another choice in those 10 minutes. A friend of mine says that it will always haunt him. It is possible that the officers who brutally beat Rodney King could have made a different choice. It was both heartbreaking and frustrating to see Chauvin make his decision in real-time, simply because he was a police officer and because he could. We will still be haunted. To be haunted means to feel the anger over Black pain that was so often expressed externally in the streets in the aftermath of beatings, death, or unjust verdicts, as there was no other way and very few people who could take it on. It seems that this has changed, though it has come at a high cost, between 1992 and now.