For too long now police have been able to kill and abuse young black men and even children with impunity. However, hopefully yesterday that changed with the high profile conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. The guilty finding on all 3 charges was unprecidented. So what does this mean going forward? It is a landmark case in terms of speed to trial and conviction. The question is why? I think the answer to that is fairly simple. The public outcry at watching a black man die at the hands of a police officer on video, made it impossible to ignore or gloss over. The question you have to ask is, would there have been a conviction had the events of that tragic day not been caught on camera? The answer is, probably not. The use of police body cams, is a vital tool in the ability to hold officers to account for their actions. However, on that day, you have to ask yourself the question, what would the jury's perception of events been, based purely on the body cam footage? I put it to you that it would have been nowhere near as compelling as the footage shot by a concerned 17 year old girl, recording the actions of a police officer she knew was behaving badly.
We know that not all police forces use body-cams and all too often, we hear that for some unexplained reason body cams are often not activated. So whilst the Derek Chauvin conviction is in many ways a landmark conviction, had it not been for Darnella Frazier recording the events on that day, the outcome might have been very different. I am relieved for the family of George Floyd that justice was served, because I simply can't imagine how they would have coped had it gone the other way.
There is no question that this was a politically charged case and the usual battle lines were drawn, as right wing elements wanted people to focus on George Floyd's use of drugs and his previous criminal record. Take a moment to look at this interesting report in Snopes by Jessica Lee from June 2020, in which she explores the campaign by the right to muddy the waters, by trying to detract from the events on that tragic day. Quoting from the report,
'Cadence Owens claimed reporters had wrongly interpreted Floyd’s death to the public by purposefully omitting details about his past unlawful behavior, and she falsely and inappropriately called police brutality a “myth” and part of some nefarious scheme by news media to polarize Americans before the 2020 U.S. presidential election.'
I wonder if this woman has a special mirror in her house that when she looks in it, she's white? Putting this aside for a moment, it is a familiar response from the GOP, many of who defended the right of Karl Rittenhouse to shoot 2 protesters who were protesting against the murder of George Floyd. Everywhere you turn in the US, a political agenda is being carefully woven into events to gain political advantage. Even after the verdict, right wing media were suggesting that the jury had no choice but to find Chauvin guilty to avoid riots in the streets. Tucker Carlson had already dripped the poison of division to his audience previously when he had stated “The question of whether George Floyd was murdered is, in fact, ‘disputed’ by a majority of Americans” He concluded. “The bad news is, you’re still not allowed to say that out loud.” A usual Carlson soundbite, often used to indicate he was just saying out loud what others were thinking. It is misleading and untrue, but he is not one for letting the truth get in the way of his political agenda.
Republicans never miss an opportunity to gain political capital as ably demonstrated by Kevin McCarthy's attacks on Maxine Waters statement prior to the delivery of the verdict. His steps to bring a censure vote to the floor was predictably defeated along party lines. That didn't bother McCarthy, who's sole objective was to give the GOP messaging machine an opportunity to raise cash. Whilst her comments were ill advised and rightly admonished by the judge who mentioned her by name at the conclusion of the trial, it was nothing in comparison to the constant attempted judicial interventions made by Trump to protect his friends from justice.
The point I'm trying to make here, is that politics is never too far away from anything that has a raised public profile. The conviction of Derek Chauvin is the culmination of a year long battle to get the justice system to recognise truth and have the confidence to prosecute racially motivated murder with confidence and a sense of pride. Millions of people had taken to the streets to express their horror and the shame they felt, that this crime could be perpetrated in broad daylight whilst being captured on video. You didn't need to be a doctor, a paramedic, or a lawyer to believe that George Floyd was murdered, all you had to do was believe your own eyes. It really was that simple and that is why in my view, the verdict was swift and just.
The burning question is, where do we go from here? It makes perfect sense to be to get HR 7120 (George Floyd Justice in Policing Act) passed in the Senate, so as to bring humanity to policing moving forward. If you would like an overview on the bill this article from Vox by Sean Collins is a great place to start. The bill has already passed the House, predictably along party lines, with no Republicans voting for it. Karen Bass who led the bill stated; "At some point, we have to ask ourselves, how many more people have to die? How many more people have to be brutalized on videotape?" she went on to say "We must act now to transform policing in the United States." There is nothing that Karen Bass said that I disagree with, but Senate Republicans are deaf to the message.
I heard Nancy Pelosi in her statement following the verdict say "Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice" I understand the sentiment and that it is well meaning, but rest assured, given the choice, George Floyd had no desire to be the poster boy for racial justice. He was a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, who fell victim to a racist police officer. It is absolutely right that he should be remembered as the man who raised public awareness of fatal racial bias in policing, but this is no time for romanticism. The reality is, many people of color before him have suffered terribly at the hands of law enforcement, some of them young children. It's now time to be relentless in pursuit of critical change.
The late great John Lewis said that Emmett Till was his George Floyd, In 1955, the 14 year old was murdered in Mississippi by two white men Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, they abducted him from his great-uncle’s home. The pair then beat him, shot him, and strung barbed wire and a 75-pound metal fan around his neck before dumping his lifeless body in the Tallahatchie River. This appears to have been retribution for Till having earlier offended Bryant's wife working in her family’s grocery store. The Till and Floyd families have been bonded by their collective horrific experience. Emmett never got justice, his murderers were quickly acquitted, with one juror saying it had taken so long only because they had to break to drink some pop. That was the measure of the value of a black child's life in the 1950s. A time that Republicans like to call the 'good ole days'.
I get emotional just thinking about the abhorrent behaviour that so many people of color have suffered for far too long. Republicans thought it OK to call for people to move on after January 6, because this is what has happened for decades. Thousands of black people have been beaten abused and killed by whites who were encouraged to act with impunity, by a judicial system that did nothing to discourage their behaviour. Even to this day, law enforcement has hidden behind 'qualified immunity'. Created by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982, qualified immunity appears nowhere in the Constitution or in the statute that authorises civil rights lawsuits against state and local government officials (Section 1983, originally Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871). If real accountability is to be properly integrated into policing, there are urgent structural changes that need to take place. This DOES NOT involve defunding the police.
The Chauvin conviction is important, but let's not start on a victory lap just yet. Republicans will not support any effort to change the status quo. There is simply no escaping that they need systemic racism to survive as a party. It's the only sure fire way to instil fear and division in white non college educated voters. Once again, we come back to the filibuster and once gain we hit a roadblock. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the 2022 mid terms. I go round and round in circles trying to think of how these important legislative measures can be passed with the current political balance in the Senate. Without legislation, the conviction of Derek Chauvin is just that, the conviction of Derek Chauvin.