As I am writing this, Derek Chauvin, an ex- cop was found guilty on all three charges against him for murdering George Floyd, in May of 2020. Had he not been found guilty on any of the three charges against him there would have been some serious riots happening across the United States. But he has been found guilty.
But let’s hypothetically say he was found not guilty or received a mistrial, the outrage would be A TIDAL WAVE. Our justice system would have demonstrated YET again that a cop can kill a black man with impunity, even if there were witnesses on the scene and conclusive video evidence seen by lens of millions.
I felt in my gut that Chauvin would be convicted. Chauvin is to simply put it a sacrificial lamb, the cost of doing business. Chauvin will be regarded as someone who dug his own grave, unnecessarily kneeling on the neck of George Floyd in front of witnesses he could see were recording his vicious act of murder.
In the eyes of too many police and political leaders, Chauvin’s actions were NOT a moral failure, but a failure of optics. Even in 2020, when we had seen numerous police shootings captured on cell phone video and posted to YouTube or Facebook where they went viral, this was extreme. It went on for a long, long time; eight minutes and forty-six seconds to be exact. It sparked protests and uprisings not only across the country but across the world.
So Derek Chauvin may be sacrificed for the benefit of a white surpremacist policing system not because he abused his authority but becausee he displayed utter contempt for Black life too brazenly, in front of too many eyes.
What does his conviction change?
In the three months after George Floyd’s murder, cops killed about 288 people in the US, and there was a slight uptick in the already disproportionate number of those killed who were Black and/or Latino. As of April 18, cops had killed 319 people in 2021.
George Floyd’s murder changed nothing.
There has been a lot of work done by Black and Brown people, Black and Brown-led coalitions, and anti-racist allies to finally change our barbaric system of policing and imprisonment.
But in the end, we have seen a hashtag, a whole slew of platitudes, and some words. But change has been meager at best.
Maryland recently passed what many termed “sweeping police reform.” But despite the kicking and screaming of police associations and Maryland’s own backward governor, Larry Hogan, the changes did very little. Penalties were increased and civilian review strengthened, but fundamentally, nothing has changed.
Yet, Maryland is FAR ahead of the rest of the country. Some police departments have seen small reductions of budgets. In Congress, bills meant to stop the sale or transfer of military-grade equipment to civilian police forces have been facing tough challenges. In some cases, there have been responses that diverted some resources from police to social services, along with some of the responsibilities that police should have had in the first place. But these have been isolated instances, and the pushback has been strong.
There have certainly been discussions about the deep, inextricable relationship between racism and policing. This focus has been built on a deep and rich body of work that has demonstrated the roots of policing as a means of maintaining the power of the ruling classes, using both police violence and racism as tools.
Yet now, after we watched the police murder one person after another, and then witnessed the overwhelming violence cops have employed against protesters, often unprovoked, we cannot help but conclude that nothing has changed.
Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo made headlines in just the past few days. But since the testimony in the trial for George Floyd’s murder began, police have killed an average of three people a day.
And with Derek Chauvin convicted, and sentenced to life in prison, what will change?
Cops will continue to kill people. Those people will come from all races, but they will be disproportionately Black and Brown. They will be overwhelmingly poor and worki-class people.
Still, it is important — especially so for me as a white woman — to understand that many people, particularly people of color, need to see Derek Chauvin thrown in jail. It matters to many that Chauvin be convicted, that retribution meted out.
People feel that way not only because of George Floyd but because of the constant, interminable pressure of being Black or Brown in America. Living with police harassment, or the fear of it, feeling a shivers of fear when you drive past a cop car, the feeling of danger if you see it behind you and the terror of actually being pulled over is a terrible thing to live with. Walking down the street is NO different. Breonna Taylor and Botham Jean, among too many others, show that you can’t even leave that fear outside your own home.
So, yes, the burning desire to see George Floyd’s murderer go to jail is perfectly justified and understandable. And, given the system we live in, it’s also the only kind of Justice that can be offered — the retributive kind.
But in the end, it will change nothing, and it can even make things worse. Politicians and pundits will use Chauvin’s conviction as proof that the “system works.” It will be a tool used to shut down calls to Defund the Police and to end political pressure for all but mildest police reform.
And George Floyd will still be dead. As will Duante Wright, Adam Toledo, Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so, so many more.
The justice their memories need is the justice we all need: a society that respects all life, that recognizes that violence does NOT solve our problems, but treating all of our communities and every individual within those communities, with respect could.
Police, it should be obvious by now, do not prevent crime. Incarceration is expensive, it is inhumane, and worst of all it is NOT only ineffective, it actually reinforces people’s disenfranchisement and lack of connection to each other, thereby bolstering, or in many cases, creating, the very conditions that lead to violence.
We can honor the murderered many, we can honor their memory and, yes, we can bring at least some justice to this country. We do that NOT by taking vengeance, although accountability and a reckoning are going to be necessary to heal wounds. But we bring that justice by building a better world.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and all the othersdeserve better than vengeance. They deserve to be the symbols of a country, of a world, reborn. One where we live up to our promises of dignity, decency, and respect for all.
We can do that. But it will NOT come out of the trial of Chauvin, no matter how the trial ends.