Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict Is Bittersweet

Systemic racism persists in policing, and we cannot become complacent

Photo: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

W hile we cannot call this verdict justice, accountability seems to have come to Minneapolis. This moment feels bittersweet. Of course, it’s good to know that other people agree that George Floyd’s life mattered. Yet America’s policing problem runs much deeper than one case.

Each generation of Black people sees people who look like them killed by police brutality. My brother once told me, “I’m more afraid of them than criminals.” Ever since he became a preteen, police officers have followed him around in stores. We discussed these events — the loss of his innocence in their eyes.

And he wasn’t alone. Even in our native New Orleans, a city filled to the brim with White liberals, policing needs reform. In 2014, a 22-year-old Black man died in police custody. Officers and the coroner claimed he killed himself. The problem is his hands were handcuffed behind his back. Even though it wasn’t logistically possible for him to have hurt himself in this condition, that’s the story officers made our community swallow. We grew up knowing that police were dangerous. But we shouldn’t have to grin and bear it any longer.

The “yes, sirs” from Floyd will continue to haunt the Black community. Even though he was in pain, he had the conscious mind to beg for his life. He knew that White men like to hear you say “yes, sir” to feel they are in control. In the South, we know that “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” is more than civil discourse; they are mandatory when dealing with White authority figures.

I did it before, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.” To cope, I used a technique my grandmother taught me. She whispered to me, “You can curse them out in your head.” This stuck with me. But, with George Floyd, it wasn’t a momentary act of compliance — it was life or death. And even his courteous nature couldn’t save him.

Each generation of Black people has seen numerous Black men and women killed by police brutality. Trayvon Martin’s death hit me particularly hard. That’s when I realized that the horrors of racism were not behind me. It was everywhere. Black people continued to die. The names piled up and filled hats, shirts, and murals.

Ask a Black person if police have hurt them or someone they know. You will be unpleasantly surprised by the frequency of abuses. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, I asked friends on Facebook if they had ever been a victim of police brutality. The stories came pouring in. While I would never use their stories publically, it illustrated the prevalence of systemic racism within my circle.

The Black community comes out to protest for these events just about every day of every year. It’s beyond exhausting being a Black person in America. Even during the trial of one ex-officer, another officer killed Daunte Wright, shooting him at point-blank range. The scales of justice have tilted away from Black people for far too long. It will take much more than a single conviction to change policing in America.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The fight for equality is a marathon, not a sprint. Americans should view Chauvin’s verdict as the beginning rather than the end of the fight for Black lives. Reform is coming. You can bet your bottom dollar on that. Black people will not continue to accept a deadening status quo. And the great part is, we’re no longer fighting this battle alone. The movement for racial equality has picked up a diverse team since Floyd’s death.

We still need justice for Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Jacob Blake, and all the other victims of police brutality. All we need is the dedication and resolve to see this through to the end. As reported in NPR:

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama drew a straight line between the deaths of Floyd and Wright: “The fact that this could happen even as the city of Minneapolis is going through the trial of Derek Chauvin and reliving the heart-wrenching murder of George Floyd indicates not just how important it is to conduct a full and transparent investigation, but also just how badly we need to reimagine policing and public safety in this country,” they said in a statement.

April 20, 2021, will go down in history as the first time a White Minneapolis officer was convicted of killing a Black man. The prosecutor ended the case with a brilliant bit of irony. It wasn’t that Floyd’s heart was “too big,” rather he insisted it was that Chauvin’s heart was “too small.” The excuses, deflections, and victim-blaming ultimately failed. Now, Floyd’s family has the justice they fought so long and hard for — that’s reason to rejoice.

After the celebrations and jubilation end, society needs to evaluate how we got here. America has a long way to go before Black lives matter. While this past year’s racial reckoning centered around a few examples of police brutality, it’s a pandemic in our society. Unlike Covid-19, we cannot get a simple vaccination to protect ourselves from racial terror. We will need to work hard to upend the system that took centuries to develop. Soon, we will see if America’s heart is big enough to value Black people when we don’t make it in the headlines. Let’s take this win in stride. Chauvin’s case is closed. But now we have to fight for accountability in every nook and cranny of America.

Essayist, Poet, Activist, and Scholar, EIC of CULTURED, Founder of #WEOC, with bylines at Momentum & ZORA ♥︎

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