Tired of more of the same
Confession: I sat out most of the Derek Chauvin trial. Well, not sat it out, exactly. The Internet and cable news exist, so it was impossible to avoid reports of the testimony: the prosecution witnesses’ tears and the defense’s scramble for any possible way to paper over the truth that we all saw with our own eyes.
But to be honest, I sat it out because I am Black, and I am tired, and because I know that I will have the chance to see it, or something like it, again.
The trial could have been a moment of national catharsis — at least, that’s what pundits hoped and politicians begged for after the protests of last summer, police department feints at becoming more kind, solemn statements from statehouses and courthouse steps.
Instead, it became mere background to more of the same.
This Sunday, as the trial paused, police in Brooklyn Center, Minn., (less than 10 miles from where Chauvin is on trial for the death of George Floyd) pulled over Daunte Wright while he was driving, citing a traffic violation. Air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, Wright told his mother. An expired tag, the police department said. Either way, not capital offenses. Wright attempted to get back into his car, and a police officer shot him to death. Allegedly, she mistook her gun for her Taser. She has, at least, resigned and been charged with manslaughter.
As it turns out, Floyd’s girlfriend, who had cried while testifying at Chauvin’s trial just a few days earlier, was Wright’s former high school teacher. A young witness at the Chauvin trial spoke about how Floyd could have been one of her own cousins, her uncle, her father or friend. I didn’t need to watch it live to see how clearly police violence traumatizes whole communities, how it ricochets across generations.
The Brooklyn Center police department’s response to protests there was to string up a “thin blue line” flag above the building, removing it only after an outcry online. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, threatened to send in “the largest police presence in Minnesota history” to arrest and charge those protesting the fact that a 20-year-old was shot dead by the police during the trial of a man crushed to death by the police.
As if this isn’t the most American response — as we saw in the District of Columbia and across the United States last summer. The people want fewer police — send more of them. De-escalation training? How about we militarize them instead? “Investment in communities?” How about a robot police dog to terrify and harass you, as if the real ones aren’t frightening enough?
Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s trial could be teaching America a lesson, but it clearly is not one that all of us are ready to learn.
There’s already a new video circulating, this one of police officers confronting a Black Army lieutenant at gunpoint and pepper-spraying him directly in the eyes. Rusten Sheskey, the Kenosha, Wis., police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down, is back on duty after not being charged with any wrongdoing.
Feckless legislators are trotting out old arguments against those who seek reform in police conduct: The real problem is Black criminality; the police don’t deserve all this trouble. In the words of Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., “The next time you get in trouble, call a crackhead.” (Well, maybe I will. They’re statistically less likely to shoot me, it would seem.)
Will the Chauvin verdict matter? It will and it won’t, I suppose. The prosecutors seeking to convict have presented an overwhelming case; the defense offered little to stand against it. Even Chauvin’s fellow police officers testified against him. Justice may well be served.
But even if this one police officer is convicted (a possibility, but as history shows, a rare one), our country feels doomed to reenact this drama again and again. Another Black man killed by police, over nothing. Another community traumatized and retraumatized, to reinforce the idea that police officers have the power of life and death over Black communities, and that they will take and use it, and that there is little we can do.
Is this defeatist? Maybe. Or maybe, like many of the people of color I know, I’m just tired. Of being assaulted by videos of people of color crying, and dying, any time I turn on the television. Of experiencing fear for friends and family. Of knowing that my skin color is seen as a threat and my body as disposable.
Closing arguments are Monday, and I won’t be watching. Maybe I’ll miss something. But I suspect we’ll be back here soon enough.