Derek Chauvin Trial: Societal Shift or One-and-Done Anomaly?

We need more than one guilty verdict to change America

Angela Harrelson, the aunt of George Floyd, speaks at George Floyd Square after the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Over the last two weeks, George Floyd’s family, along with the nation, relived his vicious murder. Frame by heartbreaking, grief-stricken, devastating frame — we watched the life of a man being slowly squeezed from him. The world stood still, watching former police officer Derek Chauvin nonchalantly take the life of another human being in the midst of a once-in-a-generation global health pandemic that had already halted our steps.

Every once in a while, there is an event that is so graphic, so inhumane, that it makes society take pause, asking itself “Who are we? What do we stand for?” and this case was it — but so were Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and the countless others who were murdered at the hands of police but received no accountability. They were fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, and loved ones. We often forget, once the hashtag has gone viral, that the people we are tagging were indeed people with full lives. They were people who lived with people who loved them and whose lives are now forever changed by the deaths. It is with this weight that we awaited a verdict on a crime that seemed so obvious and yet given the history of whiteness defending whiteness above all else in this country, we watched with bated breath for a decision to be read after only 11 hours of deliberation.

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Three charges: intentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter. Each of these charges carries a different level of time served as well as an official notation of the significance of the crime committed. To hear three guilty verdicts announced from Judge Peter Cahill’s mouth was a combination of relief, bewilderment, and pain. A relief that Derek Chauvin was held accountable for the murder of George Floyd, bewilderment that it actually happened this time around and pain for the countless Black souls whose murders were left without anyone being held responsible.

So, to feel genuine relief after a string of generational terrorism with one verdict is almost impossible.

Too often, we want to utter the word “justice” when calling for corrective action to be taken against a hostile entity such as the police. Justice however would be Floyd being shown empathy and treated like a human being — it would be for Black people to be seen as people, period. Consequently, accountability is people being held to account for their maliciousness toward the Black community. So, to feel genuine relief after a string of generational terrorism with one verdict is almost impossible.

Is it important and necessary to celebrate the wins when they finally do arrive? Yes, but when you have been fairly playing a game that everyone else has been cheating at and you finally win — does it feel like a victory or justice too long delayed? The guilty verdict is an amalgamation of relief wrapped around an enormous amount of horror that Black people have been forced to endure in this country.

The questions that will now circulate will have more to do with Whiteness trying to distance itself than for what real change could look like. There will be talks of cosmetic reform, there will be videos circulated of White cops playing basketball with Black kids, there will be debates about Chauvin being a bad apple as opposed to being a very real part of the rotten orchard of a slave patrol turned police system that we currently exist under. What White America has woken up to over the course of the pandemic is that maybe Black people haven’t been exaggerating when they say the police terrorize and over-surveil our communities. That as we listened to each and every eyewitness take the stand, we heard similar stories of tropes and lies used to dehumanize the Black community for half a millennium.

The defense’s game of basing their entire case on historical lies of extraordinary Black strength — which supposedly requires abnormal and inhumane restraint as well as angry Black mobs that were distracting Chauvin from operating with a conscious — fell on outraged ears. For once, the outcome was befitting of the crime, but let us be clear that this one verdict doesn’t change systemic oppression and unchecked power. Police will continue to kill Black people with impunity until there is robust policy change and a consistent stream of convictions that send a message to police departments across the country that criminal behavior will be held accountable.

To be clear, Floyd’s murder drew national and worldwide attention back to the heinous treatment of Black people in America. We live under duress every single day. We live with the fear that every Black person killed becomes one more degree closer to someone we know and love — it’s why we see ourselves in each senseless death. The guilty verdict rendered in the Chauvin case is one less lash in a series of cuts to the Black community. But it’s going to take more than one guilty verdict to activate the healing in a body so readily abused by this nation. But one win is indeed a win, so let us take a collective deep breath as some of us will live to fight another day.

is the host of #WokeAF & #PMMood & co-host of the podcast #democracyish. She covers all the news and happenings at the intersection of politics and pop culture.

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