Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Able to breathe again April 21, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:02 PM
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A message chalked in Bridge Square in Northfield carries a repeated phrase as young Black people continue to die at the hands of police. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

WHEN MY ELDEST DAUGHTER texted at 2:31 pm Tuesday that a verdict had been reached in the Derek Chauvin trial, I replied with one simple word. What?

That the jury could reach a verdict in such a short time—about 10 hours—following weeks of testimony likely meant that the former Minneapolis police officer would be found guilty of killing George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

I immediately switched on the TV to await reading of the verdict by Judge Peter Cahill. As I waited and watched news coverage, I felt a sense of hope. Hope that this would end in a conviction. Hope that, finally, there would be accountability in the death of a Black man at the hands of police.

I’d watched the Chauvin trial off-and-on. I heard the words of the bystanders who witnessed Floyd’s death, who pleaded with police officers to give him medical attention. Who asked Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Who chose to pause and care and document and attempt to save another human being’s life. They felt hopeless, helpless, traumatized, according to their sworn testimony. I listened, too, to police officers testify against one of their own. And I heard Floyd’s loved ones and medical experts speak. Listening to testimony left me at times feeling exhausted and heart-broken.

So when the guilty of all three counts—second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter—came down yesterday, I felt relief. Finally.

I watched Chauvin as the verdict was read. His eyes darted from side-to-side. I wondered what he was thinking in that moment and the moments following—when his bail was revoked, he was handcuffed and led away to wait in a Minnesota prison for his sentencing in eight weeks.

Messages on a house in small town Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

But mostly, I wondered how the Floyd family felt. Later they would speak at a news conference led by Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton and Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump. Said Sharpton: “This gives us the energy to fight on.” And Crump: “America, let’s frame this moment as a moment where we are finally getting close to living up to our Declaration of Independence…that all men are created equally…with certain unalienable rights like life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

My mind focused on this single word: life. George Floyd needlessly lost his life on May 25 at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, a place now known as George Floyd Square.

In the 11 months since, his family has focused on attaining justice in the death of their brother/cousin/uncle/father and on effecting change. They have done that with grace, poise, eloquence, prayer and passion. George’s brother, Philonise Floyd, has stepped up as the family spokesman. At Tuesday’s news conference, these words, especially, resonated with me: “Today we are able to breathe again.” That comment by Philonise linked directly to George Floyd’s plea to police officers as he lay face down on the pavement dying. “I can’t breathe.”

A photo and comment posted at the “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College in Northfield in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Much work remains to be done. Tuesday’s verdict marks an important step in accountability and a move toward justice and equality. It’s easy to type that. It’s harder to live it. To speak up. To take action. To care. And we need to care, whether we live along a rural gravel road, in a small town, in the heart of a big city or anywhere in between.

FYI: I’d encourage you to read posts by two Minnesota bloggers whom I respect and follow and who share their thoughts on the Derek Chauvin verdict. Click here to read Margit Johnson’s post, “Endings and Beginnings,” and Kathleen Cassen Mickelson’s “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.”

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

12 Responses to “Able to breathe again”

  1. Hi Audrey – we are on the same page today. Thanks for giving my blog a shout-out here; this is a big conversation we’re all part of. I texted Shawn about the same time your daughter texted you yesterday – he was surprised it happened so soon, too. Such relief that Chauvin is being held accountable. Now, if we can just do that for his three colleagues and for Kim Potter.

  2. I think we were all watching yesterday while holding our own breath – hoping and praying that the right verdict would be reached. No, it can’t bring George Floyd back and it can not ease the pain of his loved ones but maybe, just maybe, it is the start of justice and change. I have prayed for Minnesota, for all the unrest and division, and will continue to pray for the police as well. It is not an easy job at all and often they are placed in impossible circumstances but…life is sacred. There is no reason to take a life needlessly as has happened so often. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  3. Kathleen Says:

    So thankful this important part of justice was carried out yesterday. So relieved and so thankful. There is such a long road ahead for full justice, respect, safety and opportunity for all. We must each do our part – whatever that is to help in this vital process. Thanks for writing about this Audrey – a lovely way of helping everyone recognize we all have a part to do … it’s too important not to. Hugs, Kathleen

  4. Larry Gavin Says:

    Justice was carried out. What good is justice if it is not joined with mercy? Mercy is frequently the hard part, but we are called to it.

    The real news is what happened after the verdict: nothing. Minnesotans responded with calm and peace. That’s the story. We responded with grace, and for that we should be proud.

    • Larry, I always appreciate your comments. They are thoughtful and insightful and cause me to stop and think. Mercy, yes. Calm, peace and grace, yes.

      It’s good to hear from you. I hope you are well and still penning poetry.

  5. Norma Says:

    You totally expressed my feelings. I was so surprised that the verdict came back so quickly. Thank the Lord for the calm after the verdict.

  6. The entire World was watching how Minnesota would pursue change. It was on the news here and was celebrated as a step towards equality and compassion and justice for all people. Hopefully this leads to systemic changes and reforms. Much overdue in my book! Our country (USA) is better than what we saw on the street in Minneapolis last summer!


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