A high school dropout named Derek Chauvin killed a man by kneeling on his neck. 330 days later, Chauvin was convicted of a gruesome crime and despised around the world. Chauvin is now awaiting sentencing amid celebrations, and posts of “accountability”. But none of the glee nor the trauma effectively sums up what happened to us during the tumultuous year that George Floyd missed because he was murdered.
Before becoming a convicted felon and murderer, Derek Chauvin was a member of the Army Reserve. As a cop, he was involved in a fatal shooting. But he also received three commendations. A medal of valor because he shot at a suspect who had a shotgun. Another commendation when he fired upon a fleeing suspect. His off-duty job at a nightclub earned him, for a reason I don’t quite understand, the third commendation.
Chauvin was considered racist by those he dealt with on the street. When his own life was at stake, his attorney’s barely put on a defense. Earlier, he turned down a plea bargain for a shorter sentence, as if he was the victim. The verdict was predictable and yet anxiety-provoking because of past history but Chauvin is not the first cop to go to jail.
Nouman Raja shot a musician in Florida and was sentenced to 25-years. Raja killed Corey Jones whose car had broken down. Jones was traveling with ten grand in musical equipment and had a handgun for protection. Raja never identified himself and shot Jones straight through the heart.
Killed by a cop has been around since slave patrols were charged with capturing runaways and preventing rebellions. Slave owners paid bullies to return runaway slaves and upon capture were encouraged to teach the runaways a lesson. That kind of police behavior trickled down to Southern cops during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. People who visited taverns were considered dangerous and the cops had leeway to rough them up if things got physical.
It’s not just white cops either. In 1974, Edward Garner was shot by Elton Hymon after breaking a window and stealing $10.00. Hymon, who was black, knew Garner didn’t have a weapon. He fired anyway, spraying his brains all over a fence. Hymon said afterward “I had to go into the precinct for the initial investigation. I was shaking so badly, the supervisor offered me a shot of bourbon and counseling. What I resented was the implication that after killing an African American I was acceptable.” Hyman was given a hero’s ovation at the station. A boy was dead but he was cheered. That is the broken system in a nutshell.
Several Supreme Court rulings later, there are limitations on deadly force.
Prosecutors hesitate to bring charges against cops because they don’t think white jurors will convict, a desperate attempt by jurors to hold on to an image that is broken and unrealistic. Bias prevents looking at the picture clearly and excusing behavior that is reprehensible. Policing is aggressive in militarized communities, and whites often lack empathy for those who are victims of systemic racism. If it doesn’t happen to them, they are desensitized.
The conventional wisdom about policing used to be that body cameras save black lives but what the evidence suggests is that 1. Cops turn their bodycams off, and 2. smartphones are saving lives. Someone is always hovering nearby ready to take a picture to upload. It’s the only protection people of color have against abuse of power these days.
Killer cops are often repeat offenders. Let off by the justice system they shoot again, like Ryan McMahon who killed two black men a year apart and was never charged in either crime.
- Vet applicant’s backgrounds. Domestic violence, drug use, firings should exclude potential applicants.
- Examine social media posts for white nationalist leanings
- Punish use of force complaints with suspension, dock of pay, and demotions.
- Embrace de-escalation strategies and community policing
- Require 40% of the police force to live in the neighborhood they are policing
After the Chauvin verdict, the NBA and NBAPA gave a sanitized statement that was forgettable; the words “racism” and “trauma” were never mentioned. The Minnesota Timberwolves statement was everything the NBA’s was not.
Over a year ago, George Floyd was murdered, causing unimaginable pain and trauma for his family, the Minneapolis community, and communities across the nation…Throughout our history, racial and social inequalities have been ingrained in our society. We are hopeful that today’s decision will serve as a step forward, but it does not ease the physical and emotional pain that continues in an environment where systemic racism exists.
The Los Angeles Sparks:
“Our organization understands that one guilty verdict does not change the fact that people of color face systemic racism on a daily basis and continue to be victims of police brutality. While a modicum of justice was served with the ruling, it’s important to remember that true justice will come when all citizens, regardless of race, gender, or religion, feel safe in their communities and have equitable access to education, housing, healthcare, and economic mobility.”
The verdict appeases two communities. Black people can finally exhale; a cop was convicted. Whites can feel comfortable with the justice system they created. See, they say. It works. Both opinions are overly optimistic and melodramatic.
The verdict was abnormal, just as George Floyd’s nine-minute death was torturous. Athlete protests, citizen’s rage, communities burning, sorrowful despair preceded a trial that became one of those communal events, a way to share trauma, while also holding your breath. A guilty verdict can’t erase the humanity that was stolen from George Floyd. He begged for his life and no one cared. It made me think of Sam Hose whose skin was ripped off his face before he was nailed to a cross and set on fire. Police watched then too.
Many interpret the verdict as we matter. We finally matter. That’s a bit too generous. It is George Floyd who matters. The verdict, though healing at the moment, might just be a one-time thing. A broken clock right once a day thing. It remains to be seen if the world is changing because of what happened in a courtroom on the 20th day of April 2021. And what happened 330 days ago to George Floyd.
Believe what you see, the prosecutors demanded of the jurors in closing arguments. But that can be a hard pill to swallow when you refuse to see what some of us experience every single day.