The Derek Chauvin verdict is not the end of anything. Rather, it forces us to wonder if it can be a beginning


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Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict is not the end of police brutality; neither does it signal a pause in the killing of Black men at the hands of police officers sworn to serve and protect.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2021 (705 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict is not the end of police brutality; neither does it signal a pause in the killing of Black men at the hands of police officers sworn to serve and protect.

That trauma is too ingrained and carved into the soul of America; too much of a global reality to be erased by one verdict, however significant, however necessary.

And significant it was — coming after 10 hours of jury deliberation and not a moment too soon, if the reported angst and nervousness of good people everywhere was any indication.

But was there any other option? Was another case so overwhelmingly obvious?

After all, this was the equivalent of a judicial layup, tantamount to needing a one-foot putt to win the most watched golf contest in decades — one that is the subject of global scrutiny.

Thanks to a video, taped by a 17-year-old girl, the world saw Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck in broad daylight on a Minneapolis street for nine minutes and 29 seconds, nonchalantly ignoring Floyd’s death cries, unmoved by the desperate pleas from horrified citizens. Until the man died, lying there for more than three minutes before emergency workers arrived to apply the futility of trying to revive Floyd.

And yet, so many were afraid to hope, considering a history of failed justice in the face of incontrovertible guilt — scared to believe that their fellow Americans would stand up and say, as a jury, “No sir, not here, not now, not this time.”

For one day, at least, justice is served. Breathe, people. And hope.

The verdict, anticipated across a world that staged marches last year to protest Floyd’s death, is not the end of anything. We’ve been fooled too often before. Rather, it forces us to wonder if it can be a beginning. Can we use it to achieve a world where our humanity trumps everything else — because there is no more denying the ugly reality of racial injustice? As U.S. President Joe Biden said following the verdict, the Floyd murder “ripped the blinders off for the world to see” the horror of anti-Black racism.

The prosecution had asked the jurors — six white, four Black and two biracial — to believe their eyes, believe what everyone saw and recognized; that the video is the representation of unaccountable policing gone rogue.

“This wasn’t policing; this was murder,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jurors — a declaration necessary to quell concerns of citizens forever shy about holding police officers accountable for their murderous actions.

In essence, Blackwell was saying, “You can go ahead and convict this gentleman. He is not a real cop. He’s a rebel, an outlier, someone not worthy of the honour bestowed on law enforcement officers.”

Who can second-guess a powerful and effective strategy that proved successful? But the fact that it was needed only signals the steep hurdle to a conviction of police officers who use unreasonable and unlawful force against Black citizens, day in and day out, in America and around the globe.

Separating the two — police who serve and protect as opposed to police who harass and brutalize — is an elusive goal for the majority of African Americans and too many African Canadians. As such, very few of them would have bet a nickel on the outcome of the Chauvin trial, so jaded they have become following centuries of injustice in the courts of justice.

Right here, in Toronto, the Floyd effect has unleashed a torrent of reports and stories and voices and complaints and conversations and promises and hand-wringing and committees and talk about tackling anti-Black racism. Because it exists here: on the TTC, in law firms, at the school boards, in your workplace, in the highest orders of our political parties.

It’s like racism is in the air; in our skin.

It will take more than one court outcome to erase the trauma of perpetual injustice — so many unnamed and unrecorded, too many names like Emmett Till and Rodney King burned into our consciousness because justice was denied them. Even as George Floyd rested in a cemetery, the killings at the hands of police continued in America at a rate similar to pre-Floyd times.

Right here, in Durham Region, a Black youth, Dafonte Miller, was beaten by an off-duty policeman for allegedly stealing coins from neighbourhood cars — and the officer was only found guilty of assault.

Floyd did stir up something deep and unforgettable because of its raw, unemotional brutality. Who can forget the feeling from seeing the video for the first time? The feeling that to the officer, the action seemed so routine. As Chauvin’s lawyer said, ironically, it makes no sense that Chauvin would do something so illegal and criminal knowing that everyone was watching him and with cameras all around. He must have been acting lawfully, the lawyer concluded.

Not this time, buddy. Maybe if local authorities had retained control over the case and the state attorney general had not intervened to short-circuit their history of do-nothing — a history the local police department had started to write until the video exploded on the world. Maybe if Donald Trump was still in the White House. Maybe if the Minneapolis police chief had not testified against Chauvin, an action almost unheard of. Maybe if the world had not responded the way it did, in solidarity. Maybe if athletes and entertainers and people of all races and creeds did not finally come to understand why football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem; and why Black Lives Matter means exactly that — because for too long, it has meant little to nothing, if not for the value of enslaved labour.

The conviction does not put a red bow on racism. It’s what we have come to expect from the justice system of a democracy. And it underscores that such expectations must be buttressed by demands of accountability, even if protests are what’s required.

It took everything breaking right for this guilty verdict to elicit such universal acclaim. A parade of cases are to follow. How they land in our hearts and on our heads will determine if today is a turning point or even the beginning of a new day.

Royson James is a former Star reporter and a freelance contributing columnist based in Toronto. Reach him via email:

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