The whole world seemed to hold its collective breath last week when a jury in a Minneapolis courtroom returned a verdict of guilty on all three counts against former Officer Derek Chauvin who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd for over 9 minutes resulting in Mr. Floyd’s death. It has been almost a year since we witnessed that horrific scene caught on the cell phone of a courageous young 17-year-old woman named Darnella Frazier. In the days following Mr. Floyd’s death it appeared as if the world erupted with outrage and indignation. Protests occurred in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, and even here where I live in Madison, Wisconsin. But not only did protests erupt across the United States, they erupted in the UK, in France, in Canada, and in New Zealand. It was as if the whole world was saying, “enough is enough.” This outpouring of protest became known as a “racial reckoning” and may have been decisive in the 2020 Presidential election.
So now almost 10 months later we sat nervously awaiting a jury verdict. We relived the terribly graphic death of Mr. Floyd as we watched the testimony and legal arguments. There was seemingly overwhelming evidence that what we saw with our own eyes was indeed true. But as Black people we have seen this “movie” before. We have seen Black people killed via video evidence and no police officer was convicted. Indeed, in many cases no police officer was even charged. Do you remember Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Jacob Blake, or Breonna Taylor? We saw lots of evidence, but they did not receive justice.
Thus, when we started receiving alerts on our mobile devices that the jury was ready to render a verdict, we sat frozen in time nervously awaiting the news. Officer Chauvin was convicted on all three counts—guilty, guilty, guilty. A crowd had gathered outside the courthouse and a man on a bull horn read the judgment on each count to them. With the final “guilty” was uttered the crowd erupted. People hugged one another and cried tears of joy. There was something of a celebration in the streets of Minneapolis and I am certain the city’s elected leaders and business owners breathed a sigh of relief that there would not be angry protests that might turn into destruction.
Yes, I too was relieved to hear the verdict. But that verdict brought me no satisfaction. It certainly brought me no joy. There was no satisfaction or joy because there was no justice. Mr. Floyd did not receive justice because his life cannot be restored. His daughter will grow up fatherless. His brothers and sisters will grow up without their beloved sibling. His partner will either remain alone or move on to another relationship. But George Floyd will not be with us. The Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison said it best. We did not receive justice…we received a measure of accountability.
But has everyone been held accountable? Was the City of Minneapolis Police Department held accountable for the ongoing treatment of Black people in their city? Remember, during the Derek Chauvin trial, another Black man, Duante Wright was shot and killed by a nearby police department over a minor traffic stop. Was the education system held accountable? Every time educators exclude and stigmatize Black children, we are putting them on a path to not just school failure, but rather life failure. Yet, as educators we are not being held accountable.
Derek Chauvin may spend the next 40 years in prison, but it will not begin to atone for the terrible injustice people like George Floyd endure year in and year out. Most of the violence visited upon Black people will never result in true justice. It will not result in systemic changes. It will not require the society to stop criminalizing our children. It will not require municipalities to stop over policing our communities. It will not stop the society from turning our babies into adults. It will not make up for the thousands upon thousands of Black people who have been lynched, gunned down, and beaten to death.
Derek Chauvin will have to pay for ONE death of an unarmed Black man, and he will pay for it because the entire world witnessed him doing it. He should pay, but was that justice?
Stay Black & Smart!