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Noah Feldman

It's Too Soon to Call the Derek Chauvin Verdict a Turning Point

It’s important to hold George Floyd’s murderer accountable. But it’s still just one case.

A woman walks near a makeshift memorial for George Floyd. 

A woman walks near a makeshift memorial for George Floyd. 

Photographer: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

The jury that convicted Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd got it right. In the wake of a verdict like this one, it is almost instinctual to suggest that the jury spoke on behalf of the American people, striking a blow for racial justice. But although jury verdicts are often infused with meaning, this kind of interpretation ought to be approached with caution. We won’t know whether this moment marks a turning point for many years to come.

The temptation to treat a jury verdict in a big case as symbolic stems, I think, from our powerful human tendency to use individual stories as metaphors in order to make sense of the world around us. Faced with a nationally prominent incident like the murder of George Floyd, our inclination is to say that the jury’s decision is a leading indicator of where our nation is going.