Not since Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson back in 1929 Alabama has a trial transfixed the nation like that of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, now facing charges ranging from manslaughter to second-degree murder for kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, until he died.
Here’s a checklist of other differences between Tom’s case and Derek’s current troubles:
Smarty-pants readers will immediately spot the Real Difference between the cases of Tom & Derek: Tom’s ordeal was a fictional tale entitled To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by a 34-year-old white lady, Harper Lee. Derek’s trial, televised live from Minnesota, is a real case triggered by a viral video taken by a black 17-year-old girl, Darnella Frazier.
There are other differences, but why spoil the ending for those scrambling for a copy of Ms. Lee’s novel?
We’ll learn Derek’s fate soon enough, but trial outcomes for police accused of killing people suggest two likely verdicts: (1) Not Guilty, and (2) Guilty, But Just Kidding.
Outcome aside, the looming conclusion of the trial has police nationwide girding their loins for trouble, polishing helmets & shields, stocking up on anti-free-speech weaponry and reviewing their personal estate plans. From their perspective, the Most Important difference between the trials of fictional Tom and real Derek is that Ms. Frazier’s video showed the world what Derek did as he was doing it.
Nonetheless, Derek’s lawyer will try his darndest to convince the jury that while George ended up dead and Derek sure looks bad on that video, Derek really isn’t “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But even Atticus Finch would be challenged to make anyone ‘unsee’ George handcuffed and pinned to the ground under four cops. Or ‘unhear’ him insist he couldn’t breathe. Or unsee Derek, grimly kneeling into George’s neck. Or clear their heads of bystander voices urging police to help George as he cried out for his mother.
Reaction to the verdict — whatever it is — is likely to explode into streets across a long-suffering nation suffocating under the knee of cavalier police brutality unchecked by courts or common decency.
As for Derek? Win or lose, he’s a pariah, his life now forever haunted by that day. In a way, he’s also a victim of a culture of police brutality, just doing his usual job when Fate tapped him to pay for the sins of every cop that ever killed a black or crazy person in the ho-hum course of an ordinary day’s work.
All in all, it’s enough to make anyone — everyone — cry out for their mother.