George Floyd’s verdict isn’t the end of the story
Those who imagine a better and safer America must keep speaking, writing and marching until these dreams become a reality
It took Derek Chauvin nine minutes to end George Floyd’s 46 years of life. It took three months of worldwide protest to create a heightened awareness of the depth of systemic racism in America. Three weeks of trial and more than 10 hours of jury deliberation finally brought a verdict: Guilty on all three counts.
Watching the emotionless Chauvin, whose bail was revoked, walk away in handcuffs to await his sentencing evoked a potent mixture of relief and disbelief.
At the heart of this story will always lie a criminally fatal encounter between two individuals. But its boundaries came to stretch far beyond two men. In a sense, by the time the verdict was read, White America itself was on trial for the violent subjugation of Black peoples — the original sin it has escaped accountability for more than 400 years.
Chauvin was found guilty, but that is a low bar in a minutely documented, open-andshut case. The sobering truth is that instances of White accountability for Black bloodshed are all too rare in the United States. And still, even as the world heard the justice system build an overwhelming case against one of its own, another White Minnesota police officer erased another Black life, with the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. In fact, during the trial, the New York Times reported, police across the nation killed more than three people a day — more than half of them Black or Latino.
Who thinks the bodies will not continue to pile up? A few arrests and convictions of officers do not add up to justice. There can be no justice when police can still eliminate nonWhite people at any time.
Canyon of hopelessness
I come to this verdict from a watery canyon of hopelessness that the state of affairs in a country founded on ethnic cleansing and slave labour could ever change. The truth is we face a battle that goes much deeper than questions of public-safety policy and rhetoric.
“We are in an imagination battle,” social justice facilitator Adrienne Maree brown writes in her book, Emergent Strategy. “Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and so many others are dead, because in some White imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill, based on an imagined, racialised fear of Black people are rarely held accountable.”
She writes: “I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s imagination.”
And that’s a meaning of White supremacy — non-Whites indeed are trapped in the White imagination. Countless Black people, Black men in particular, have described how they contort themselves to avoid triggering White fear. My colleague Jonathan Capehart wrote this weekend that he carries a brightly coloured phone so that no one will think it’s a gun. A heartbreaking Twitter thread shared accounts of Black men who avoid buying nice cars so the police won’t assume they stole their vehicles and stop them.
We are taught to subjugate ourselves to White fear — to be calmer and more composed than trained officers. We do this not because their fear is correct, but because we could be killed if we don’t.
And when Black people take to the streets in grief and anger after another killing by police, the White fear of Black retribution prompts businesses to board up, National Guard troops to be deployed and protesters to be subjected to even more police violence.
The cycle continues.
What hope is there for this country to become less primitive toward Black people? Why should we not feel weary when we hear White imaginations self-soothing with the thought that a few firings and convictions can repair this historically unjust system? How can one not despair when we know that it will be just a matter of time until the next horrific police killing?
And even, it must be noted, the George Floyd precedent for justice sends a problematic message. Must Black death be caught on camera, and the slaughter be so perfectly brutal, and the resulting protest be so overwhelming, to get an arrest, trial and conviction?
New front of hope
And yet, I feel some hope, even if small. In the battle for America’s imagination of itself, George Floyd’s murder has opened up a new front.
Conversations around defunding the police have gained traction. We are imagining models of community safety and empowerment that could one day replace traditional policing models of surveillance, control and subjugation.
Full justice for George Floyd did not come this week, but justice was never going to come from a court — it will only come when policing as we know it is done away with. In the meantime, those who imagine a better and safer America must keep speaking, writing and marching these dreams into existence.