Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict is significant because it’s novel. That’s the real injustice
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2021 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Relief perhaps. A temporary reprieve. An acknowledgment that one Black life was recognized. That one violent policeman could be held accountable. That for once Black pain and trauma was seen. That the family of George Floyd can finally have some form of closure.
But there can be no overall celebration, surely, in the ghastly business that found former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges in the murder of Floyd in May 2020.
It was a unanimous verdict and Judge Peter A. Cahill made short work of it as he read it out. Guilty of second-degree unintentional murder. Guilty of third-degree murder. Guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin faces anywhere from 10 to 40 years in prison for the highest of those three charges, which is second-degree murder. The sentencing is in eight weeks.
Chauvin was sitting in court as the verdict was read out, his frightened eyes darting from side to side above his mask. A far cry from the man who cold-bloodedly put his knee on the neck of a man accused of using a fake $20 bill and stayed put until he knocked the life out of the man’s body.
Except we all saw it, thanks to 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who recorded the video and uploaded it to Facebook, triggering months of protests for racial justice, the likes of which this continent hadn’t witnessed in decades.
“The verdict was a relief. And it is also a possible illusion,” said David Hooker, former Georgia assistant attorney general and professor at the University of Notre Dame.
“We’re not yet certain that justice will be a regular occurrence. It could in fact be that the justice that Black and brown communities are seeking is not available from within the legal system as it is currently configured.”
That sentiment was echoed in Canada by Beverly Bain, professor at University of Toronto, a Black queer feminist, an antiracism, anti-capitalist scholar and an activist of 40 years.
“It’s a relief,” she said, “from the bombardment of violent, spectacular images and videos, playing and replaying Chauvin’s killing of Floyd. You no longer have to keep seeing it over and over and over again.”
All the guilty verdicts won’t bring Floyd back. It’s not just Chauvin who killed Floyd but a vicious system of policing that legitimized the process. A system created to control people like Floyd, to make sure they never strayed from their place, authorized to come down hard on any form of resistance, and given to brutalizing them for the sport of it.
That system not only allowed Chauvin to casually kill a man but enabled his partner Tou Thao to hold at bay horrified bystanders. Ordinary citizens who were asking them to stop out of human decency. Thao faces a trial in August.
It is a system so bloodthirsty that a New York Times analysis found that police killed three people every day since Chauvin’s trial began on March 29.
Chauvin’s guilty verdict is significant because it is novel. That is the real injustice. For so long, the criminal justice system has treated incidents of police brutality like there was nothing to see there. Just American history unfolding as usual.
This verdict arrived quickly, after only 10 hours of deliberations. But as Hooker said, “the fact that it took 17 eyewitnesses, multiple expert witnesses, several angles of 9+ minutes of video and STILL the verdicts were in doubt suggest we have a long way to go to establish the level of balance of power between police and Black and brown communities.”
No wonder Minneapolis was on edge. The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and thousands of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers were brought in ahead of the verdict, The Associated Press reported.
The Chauvin trial is being touted as the case that broke the thin blue line — the famous closing of ranks among police — after Chauvin’s boss, police Chief Medaria Arradondo, and a string of colleagues testified against him, calling his actions brutal.
This, of course, is nonsense. By throwing him under the bus police were simply saving face, and the system, by claiming an ability to say they were making change.
“Police see this as a way to tout that they’re cleaning house,” said Bain. “But it is not a victory for Black people. In fact, if anything they’re continuing to sign death warrants if they side with reform and a tinkering of system rather than dismantling of the system.”
“We must escalate the protesting and say this verdict cannot mean that police can be reformed. This verdict does not mean they can be trusted. If anything it’s a clear indication we have to defund police, that we have to de-escalate, that we have to demilitarize, that we have to abolish.”
Shree Paradkar is a Toronto-based columnist covering issues around race and gender for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @ShreeParadkar