With the surprising (because this is America) news that police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts (second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter) for his caught-on-camera murder of George Floyd coming down in the late afternoon on Tuesday, late-night shows will have another day to process what that shockingly unprecedented verdict means. Stephen Colbert recorded a succinct and heartfelt announcement at The Late Show, the show proper having already been locked in by the time the jury’s unanimous verdict was read, while Jimmy Kimmel only made a passing reference during his monologue, wishing Chauvin “good luck in prison,” adding, “You’ll need it.”
And while Kimmel’s acid benediction smacked of some hacky, juvenile schadenfreude, even the old white men still holding sway over much of late-night uniformly noted that the fact that a white cop actually faced and received something akin to consequences for murdering a Black person in this country is marked as progress indicates that there’s a whole lot of progress needed. And it was Jimmy Fallon, of all people, who was able to bring on a guest better equipped to sum up the moment, putting in a call to NBC-family colleague, Joy Reid, who appeared via The Tonight Show’s remote feed.
“There’s nothing to celebrate when someone goes to prison,” explained MSNBC’s Reid, “This man’s life is over.” And while it might be more accurate to say that it’s George Floyd’s actual life that ended when then Minneapolis PD officer Chauvin kneeled on the helpless Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, Reid noted that Chauvin’s near-unprecedented conviction represents a somber but important potential turning point. “Think about this, how rare this is for a police officer to be convicted of killing a black man, woman, child in this country,” Reid stressed to Fallon, noting that her cynicism in the area is founded on some two percent of such cases even resulting in charges. “I steel myself,” confessed the host of The ReidOut, explaining to Fallon that, even considering the bystander-filmed murder and “the phoned-in and strange quality” of Chauvin’s defense, she’d been prepared to go on the air Tuesday to explain to the nation, once more, how this is, in fact, exactly who we are as a nation.
With Fallon admirably and wisely letting Reid do the talking, the MSNBC anchor expressed that, for Black Americans, cynicism and the justice system are inextricable. Citing sickeningly similar incidents from the 41-shot execution of African immigrant Amadou Diallo by the NYPD (no convictions), to the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a member of the Cleveland PD (no conviction), to the police killing of Daunte Wright and others during the Chauvin trial (we’ll see), Reid expressed how preparing for the justice system (so called) to effectively give white police officers a free pass to murder Black people is just part of Black Americans’ reality. Noting that Chauvin’s trial was unprecedented, in that some ten fellow cops, along with the police chief, testified against Derek Chauvin, Reid told Fallon she’d like to believe that this verdict represents an actual turning point, but, again, we’ll see. Saying this conviction could “potentially radiate throughout our system,” Reid yet was cautious in reminding Fallon that, while this rare instance of well-founded cynicism being happily wrong “is a relief, it isn’t anything to be joyful about.”