0604 GMT January 21, 2022
Since last May, the world has been waiting for justice for George Floyd, who was killed on the streets of Minneapolis after trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The jury found police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts: Second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. It was an emotional verdict, in what has been an emotional year since his killing. How are we to receive this moment?
This verdict has been a long time coming. And it’s been a painful, difficult wait. Many times, I have had to remind people that it was Derek Chauvin who was on trial, not George Floyd. Over and over, people questioned Floyd’s history, his drug use and his actions – anything that would shift the blame for his own death away from Derek Chavin. As WEB Du Bois once wrote: “Nothing in the world is easier in the United States than to accuse a black man of a crime.” That is still true today.
Despite all we have gone through – despite all the protests, activism and calls for justice – we still see black people as criminals. Perhaps the most arduous task of the prosecution was not to prove that Chauvin played a role in Floyd’s death, but to prove that Floyd was in fact, a human being. A deep-seated and pervasive culture of racism is to blame for the fact that his humanity was ever in question.
As historians, the greatest opposition we can show white supremacy is to tell the truth. I have grown tired of politicians and pundits claiming that Chauvin was a bad apple or an anomaly. No, the truth is, he is a mirror of white supremacy. The violence he committed was white supremacy in its purest form.
For some, to mention this obvious fact is to be “divisive”. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson issued a hateful diatribe about the trial, in which he said, “No one on CNN actually cares about George Floyd now. What they care about is you and your role in the systemic racism that supposedly killed George Floyd.”
The purpose of speaking about racism, Carlson said, is to “punish you and to change America”. That, he said, is “why they are replaying that video of George Floyd dying on the sidewalk, to remind you of all of that, of your culpability in his death”. Carlson goes on to say that, “If the Floyd [Chauvin] trial ends in acquittal, there could be riots. We accept that as a fact of life in this country. No civilized country should accept that, but suddenly we do.” Apparently, Carlson thinks a civilized country should accept black Americans being killed in broad daylight by police.
Much as Carlson and his ilk would like us to keep silent about white supremacy, we cannot and will not. Since this trial began, three people a day have been killed by the police; over half of these victims are black and Latino people. We will repeat it over and over and over again, until black people stop being murdered in the streets by police.
This is the audacity of white supremacy: That a white police officer could, in broad daylight, while being recorded among a gathering of witnesses, kneel on a black man’s neck until he died. He kneeled despite the fact that Floyd told him he couldn’t breathe. And he kept kneeling despite the fact that Floyd told him he was going to die. In this country, a black athlete like Colin Kaepernick can’t peacefully kneel on the ground in protest without backlash. Yet, a white police officer can kneel on a black man’s neck until he dies. The verdict doesn’t take away from that fact.
It’s hard to know if Chauvin ever recognized Floyd’s humanity. That’s what made the weeks of questions and cross-examinations of witnesses that took place so grueling to watch. I watched Chauvin’s body language throughout the trial. He always appeared indifferent. What notes was he taking? What, if any testimony, moved him to feel empathy? In the nine minutes 29 seconds that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, all I saw was defiance on his part. He was a belligerent cop who was not going to be told how to do his job. Chauvin never exhibited remorse. But even if he did, remorse does nothing to further justice. Rendering Floyd’s death as a series of unfortunate events does nothing to alter violent outcomes for black people.
Make no mistake, a conviction for Chauvin is not equivalent to a vaccine that will protect us from death and injury. A prison sentence will not protect black people from the violence of the police. Black men, women, and children are still being killed by the police. There are no winners in this outcome. An acquittal is not justice. A conviction is not justice. In America, we have never seen justice because justice is a system that fully recognizes black humanity – and we are far from a justice system like that.
The stakes of white supremacy do not start or end with this verdict. Floyd’s family will never recover his life, love or laughter. Black Americans will not cease to be seen as threats. And Chauvin will walk away as the exception and not the rule.
*Kellie Carter Jackson is the Knafel assistant professor of the humanities in the department of Africana studies at Wellesley College.
Source: the Guardian