Earlier this week many of us were riveted to screens as we waited for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was on trial for murdering George Floyd, a Black man. Chauvin was one of four officers who tried to arrest Floyd. While Floyd was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, face down, Chauvin kept his knee of the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 min and 46 seconds.
Before the verdict came out I chatted with POC friends and many were ready for an acquittal. We felt like history proved white cops get off with harming and killing Black people and not being held accountable. An acquittal would justify the anger, the feeling of continued harm, the lack of being seen as worthy of protection by the state and community. A Black friend said while he wanted a guilty verdict for the family – justice and accountability, and he wanted an acquittal to release the pent up anger and unleash public protest that could force broader actions. What we didn’t have time to talk about was how harmful an acquittal would have been since it would have sent a signal that the police are right and can continue to operate as is, but I’m confident we were all thinking this as well.
The guilty verdict may be the ‘justice’ verdict in this case, but we as non-Black people, should still be mad and protesting. The guilty verdict has brought justice for the Floyd family but as many others have pointed out it is an empty feeling. A Black man – a grandfather – is still dead. In the same week other Black people were killed by police officers.
“One Bad Apple…” that metaphor doesn’t work
Last summer many allies joined in protest and called for changes. It was important and signaled to many policymakers, leaders, and the community at large that we are ready and demanding changes and accountability. I remember watching an over 2-hour silent march go by my house, it was a cold spring day with rain and yet thousands of people quietly walked to silently protest over police brutality and to affirm our belief in our Black relations. I hope those thousands of people who walked by my house are still working protesting the continued police brutality.
Just because one officer was found guilty does not make up for the millions of other acts that continue to harm Black and Brown people. The “one bad apple, spoils a whole batch” metaphor doesn’t work – we need to look at the whole system and create conditions that force system wide changes, not incremental changes that tinker here and there. As my friend RB said one guilty verdict doesn’t wipe out generations of Black trauma. He said the verdict still felt like righteous and “rejoiceful anger,” but empty.
After the verdict I messaged a friend who is married to a police officer, both are white. She said she knows many officers that have zero use of force complaints against them because they understand their roles as law enforcement. They know when to disengage and they are servant officers not warriors. She also said every department has a Chauvin-type warrior-mentality officer in it and hopefully the overall trial will force officers and departments to change.
This is where we need white allies and poc allies to continue following Black communities lead on pushing for comprehensive reforms. If you were out protesting last summer, your job isn’t done. The harder changes come in the quieter times where laws are changes, hiring practices are updated (e.g. hire people from communities of color, stop hiring people for their combat experience), training curriculum is updated or made mandatory, and so on. These system wide changes need continual public pressure to be enforced. One guilty verdict doesn’t absolve the law enforcement system or any system from having to look at itself and changing. These systems do not change on their own, in fact they work to resist change and hold on to the status quo.
We’re All on the Frontlines of Somewhere
I’m also reminded by my friend and colleague RB that the work is everywhere: “As elementary school educators, we are that front line – outside of the home – in the fight to end all forms of racism, hate, biases and prejudices.” As a Black male he is one of the few Black people, and often the only Black adult male. We are all on the frontlines of something, put some of your protest energy there as well, fight for changes so we can have more people of color included in places where we’re often excluded.
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