Tuesday 20 April 2021 will go down in history as a US police officer was convicted of murder for killing a Black man. The individual found guilty is Derek Chauvin and his victim was George Floyd.
I have struggled to find the right words to write this blog and openly express my thoughts on the outcome that emerged from that Tuesday. To be further honest, I still cannot fathom how I truly feel; so bear with me.
Let’s start with the tsunami of relief that washed over me when Chauvin was found guilty of murder. I am also not ashamed to confess that a few tears were shed. The fact that I contemplated that Chauvin may have been found innocent is a fear that could have easily been a reality. The rarity of achieving a conviction in these types of cases caused my stomach to churn with nerves as I waited with bated breath to hear the final verdict.
In a democracy every person accused of a crime has the right to defend themselves in a court of law. But there are some cases where the facts are as plain as daylight. For Chauvin, the world watched him kneel on the neck of another man and did nothing to relieve this person’s pain or show compassion for their last moments of life. Yet, it is not farfetched to think the outcome could have been so different. How many ‘George Floyds’ have there been? Too many. How many times have the accused evaded accountability? Far too many times. The fact that Sgt Jonathan Mattingly, the police officer who shot Breonna Taylor, has written a book and kept his job only proves why people lack faith in the law. It seems its arms doesn’t always extend to everyone, especially if you’re a police officer.
It is difficult to see Chauvin’s verdict as ‘justice’ or ‘victory’ for George Floyd, his family or the Black community. If Daniella Frazier had not captured the infamous footage and if the world had not stood up and said “enough is enough” by protesting, would this trial even have happened?
The verdict also doesn’t signal a shift in the police’s attitude when it comes to engaging with Black and Brown communities. Shortly after the end of Chauvin’s trial, Ma’Khia Bryant, a sixteen-year-old, was shot dead by a police officer in Ohio. Daunte Wright was also shot dead by (you’ve guessed it) another a police officer who mistook her gun for a taser and killed an innocent man. The irony that this incident took place in the same city that Floyd died in is painful.
Ironically, the sombre response to the verdict brings some comfort. Why? It gives an indication that wider society is finally starting to understand that Black people dying at the hands of those who are meant to protect them is a far deeper issue that won’t be resolved by a single verdict. Thank God I did not have to listen to the same cries of faux ‘triumph’ that were screamed when Barack Obama was elected. ‘Post-racial America’ was a popular phrase that never materialised and for those who were desperate to believe, a harsh reality hit them two years later at the mid-terms, and without a doubt when Trump became the US President. The naivety that one Black president could eradicate racism was at the least hopeful and at the most foolish and dangerous. Such beliefs only revealed that those who aren’t impacted by racism did not fully understand the extent of the problem. For this trial, the fact that another historical moment has been observed with less wishful thinking means people are learning.
Returning to Daniella Frazier, her brave action should not be overlooked. I can’t imagine the emotional and mental anguish she must have felt (and still feels) as she filmed George Floyd’s last breath. Unable to intervene without the risk of being arrested or worse, this young lady could do nothing more than to use her phone to be George Floyd’s voice, when he was unable to speak for himself. Such moments remind us that the mobile phone has become a crucial tool for Black and Brown communities to convey their stories of brutality. They now replace the media’s sporadic coverage, which doesn’t always exemplify the volume of the problem.
This isn’t the first time that a citizen’s mobile phone has been used to unintentionally capture police officers violating their authority. The first time I saw its power was watching footage of Rodney King being beaten by four police officers in Los Angles. Once again, an uninvolved bystander took safety in filming from afar and shared footage with a local news station. The ugly side of US policing was shown to the world. Since then, many other similar incidents have debuted on social media like blockbuster films. Without a doubt, the camera phone is a game-changer.
So, what now? It cannot be expected that camera phones must come to the rescue of communities that are victimised by those in authority. A clear change of behaviour is required. Reports of White men brawling with the police or resisting arrest have resulted in individuals being tasered, not shot. Why isn’t such goodwill afforded to Black and Brown people? I cannot help but feel that Black and Brown communities are unfairly viewed as ‘aggressive’, which confirms a mindset that police officers must react with the same aggression they have mentally bestowed on groups of people. The difference of treatment has become more noticeable by both Black and White Americans. In 2019, 84% of Black adults said that dealing with the police, Black people are generally treated less fairly than Whites. 63% of White people said the same.
So, how do we go about changing attitudes? One thing I found surprising about Chauvin’s trial was hearing from two serving police officers. For me, this was a turning point. Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis Police Department took to the stand to reprimand Chauvin’s action. Such an act is unusual. It is not often, if at all, that the ‘Blue wall of silence’ actually speaks. Arradondo’s testimony declared that Chauvin’s action “violated” the department’s policies during arrest. I don’t know how other police officers felt about Arrandondo speaking up. To my knowledge, no repercussions, such as losing his job, have been reported.
If police officers feel safe to speak up knowing that their careers won’t be destroyed, then more needs to be done to encourage this. I do believe there are many US police officers who simply want to do their jobs, build rapport with the communities they serve and are tired of colleagues who continue to let the force down. I can’t imagine that those who truly wish to ‘protect and serve’ are enjoying their jobs. I get that no one wants to be a snitch. But, wouldn’t such actions help restore faith in a system in which so many have such little trust? Wouldn’t it help to weed out those with intentions to use this line of profession to carry out personal vendettas against the communities for which they have obvious disdain?
Finally, I take small comfort that Chauvin’s verdict is a step forward. With the upcoming trial of Kim Porter for Daunte Wright’s death and the US Justice Department launching a new investigation into the Louisville Police Dept. in Kentucky following their involvement with Breonna Taylor’s death, maybe the tears of the countless mothers, brothers and loved ones of those whose lives have been cut short too soon will no longer fall on deaf ears. Because as the world said in 2020, enough is enough.