Dean Carol Becker in Response to the Derek Chauvin Trial
April 23, 2021
Dear School of the Arts Faculty, Staff and Students:
When shocking and disturbing events occur, they can generate so much personal and national rage that—even though we are rarely of one perspective—we can become aligned as a nation, in terms of our collective attention.
Such was the case after the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Most recently, the cruel and senseless murder of George Floyd, almost a year ago, has riveted our national attention in similar ways.
Protestors against Floyd’s murder came together to keep this and other unconscionable acts of police violence in the public eye as they demanded radical change. And they have succeeded amazingly well in moving the process of transformation forward. But we know that systems built on racism––consciously and unconsciously––are not quickly undone. Even as we have been vigilantly focused on the brutal murder of George Floyd and the three-week trial of Derek Chauvin, we continue to see Black and Brown people in this country killed by police.
I am deeply heartened by Tuesday’s verdict, yet am compelled to acknowledge the sadness, pain, and anger for all those murders that have not been and never will be equally recognized. But over the past year, it has been truly inspiring to watch this urgent revolutionary movement for change embraced nationally and globally. This force of like-minded individuals from many different backgrounds, has demonstrated that the obvious yet profound truth that Black Lives Matter can capture the attention of the nation and the world. It can awaken consciousness about deeply rooted racism and mobilize significant systemic challenges to the status quo of many institutions—from education, arts and culture, and government to the legal system—and question how that status quo is maintained and for whom.
Now that a just response to the murder of George Floyd is in, there is still much work to be done. We must continue to keep our collective attention focused on these challenges and on the need for radical transformation and an end to the unjust ways in which Black and Brown people in the United States are policed, so that the dignity and humanity of all who participate in this democracy is secured.
Professor of the Arts
Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts