CW: racism, violence, murder.
On the 25th May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was arrested by Minneapolis police for using a counterfeit $20 bill. A video from bystander Darnella Frazier showed a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, even as he and onlookers called for help. George Floyd was later pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Yesterday, that police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of all three charges – second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, charges that can carry a sentence of up to 40 years. Protestors rejoiced across America upon hearing the verdict. But why, even when the murder was witnessed by bystanders and captured on video, was this outcome still so uncertain?
John Gordon, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said on the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin that “for the first time in state history, a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a Black man.” This verdict was not achieved by the state and the systems of power – who have failed so many other victims of systemic racism – but by the country-wide wave of protests by the people calling for justice.
However, as New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted in response to ACLU’s comment:
Simply put, accountability is not justice.
So far in 2021, Mapping Police Violence have reported that the US Police have killed 319 people. But Black people are still three times as likely to be killed than white people.
Moments before Chauvin was found guilty, police in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot Makiyah Bryant, a 15-year-old girl, only 9 days after the killing of 20-year-old motorist Daunte Wright in Minnesota. The last decade has been marred with systemic violence against Black people; a systemic violence that has become America’s long-lived legacy.
Since the acquittal of the man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, George Floyd is yet another name in a long list of Black people killed, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, and Breonna Taylor.
In response to the killing of Makiyah Bryant, Attorney Benjamin Crump wrote, “Another child lost! Another hashtag.”
It seems that, as Crump tweeted, every hashtag used to honour a murdered Black person is soon replaced by another. Reforms and verdicts are only one step in protecting Black people from the systems that were designed to attack them.
The justice system in America is purported to be broken, but the system was designed to be racist. It is designed to discriminate against Black bodies; it is designed to protect corrupt police officers. The world should not have been holding their breaths, waiting to see the outcome of the trial of a police officer who was filmed killing a man while he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” But we were, because we knew how many times the system has failed to serve and protect.
While watching the verdict live, my parents said, “Well, surely they’ve got to find him guilty.” And what did it say about me that I feared the worse? What does it say about white America and its view of justice?
Accountability is a fantastic result, and hopefully the verdict of Derek Chauvin will set a precedent for future cases. In an ideal world, it will be a catalyst for wider change and reform. However, it is a result that shouldn’t have been needed; justice would see George Floyd still alive.
Ultimately, true justice will be achieved through real systemic change that ensures not that police officers are charged and found guilty of murder, but that no police officer murders another unarmed Black person.
Image courtesy of Mattia Faloretti.