This Derek Chauvin Trial Is Yet Another Form of Black Torture
The Derek Chauvin trial will be one of the most consequential trials of our lifetime. The ex-police officer who casually drained George Floyd of his life while pressing his knee into his neck as (some of) the world watched in horror is a tragic sign of the times we live in. It was the ease in Chauvin’s face and the smug look of domination and cruelty that recalled the haunting truth about White America’s love affair with abusing Black people and publicly torturing Black bodies. From the auction block to the whipping posts to the lynching trees to Chauvin’s knee, White America has long displayed its vicious side and for too long has never had to answer for it.
As we settle into this trial, Black America is forced to watch — and rewatch — the slow-motion murder of yet another innocent Black person as the prosecution works to show just how depraved Chauvin’s actions were on May 25, 2020. It’s beyond challenging and painful to relive this day as an onlooker with no personal connection to Floyd, but an intimate understanding, nonetheless. Floyd begged for his life 27 times. Twenty-seven times. He begged until he had no breath left with which to speak, and even still, as his body lay drained of its life, Chauvin’s knee remained. I can think of no better metaphor for what it is like to live and die while Black in America — under the weight of White supremacy — than this one.
The defense wants America to believe that it wasn’t Chauvin’s blatant disregard for human life and suffering that killed Floyd, but rather that Floyd contributed to his own death with drug abuse. The assumption being what — that Floyd would have died on that fateful day regardless of Chauvin’s actions? This is the story that is as old as White America itself. Sounds like the actions of an abusive spouse — except White America has never claimed to love Black people.
What makes this trial almost impossible to digest is that we aren’t sure — even with this video as evidence and the multiple perspectives discussed in the trial — that Chauvin will be convicted.
For 400 years, nine minutes, and 29 seconds, Black Americans have been fighting for our humanity. Fighting to live free without harm and with dignity. Floyd is one of many and hardly the latest.
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The video of Floyd’s last minutes on Earth — replayed again as part of the trial — is excruciatingly painful because through our tear-filled eyes we see the narrative White America wants: dominated. Begging. Broken. This is why Black Lives Matter makes them so mad. With the consistent utterance of this mantra, this pledge to our own Black lives, we are refusing to go quietly into the long dark night. We are refusing to submit to who White America thinks we are. We are collectively and loudly saying, “YOU WILL SEE US.”
What makes this trial almost impossible to digest is that we aren’t sure — even with this video as evidence and the multiple perspectives discussed in the trial — that Chauvin will be convicted. That is what White privilege looks like. You can commit inhumane acts, commit unspeakable violence in broad daylight, and we can’t say with certainty that justice will prevail.
We have been told to trust a criminal justice system that was created as a way to secure our continued persecution and enslavement. There are sadly so many names that came before Floyd and not one of them — including the name that sparked the initial civil rights movement, Emmett Till — ever received authentic justice. So what does it mean some decades later, where the atrocities that befell Floyd will live on through video, but that justice could escape the same as it did young Till?
James Baldwin said the following on the eve of Jimmy Carter’s 1980 presidential election: “What we are dealing with really is that for Black people in this country there is no legal code at all. We’re still governed, if that is the word I want, by the slave code. That’s the nature of the crisis. [Y]ou haven’t got to have anything resembling proof to bring any charge whatever against a difficult, bad n***r.”
It is with this solemn truth that Black people across this country and throughout the diaspora will watch this trial. We watch with the understanding that what we are witnessing is traumatic theater at best. We will move through the motions of this play that we have seen a million times and yet know that while we are the surveilled and the governed, the rules of justice don’t apply to us. As was stated by Chief Justice Roger Taney in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Black people “have no rights which the White man is bound to respect.” It was true then. And sadly we will wait once again for the outcome of yet another trial of a White murderer. We wait to see if anything more has changed in these 164 years since Dred Scott, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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