Black and brown people and many Caucasians who follow justice administration in the United States (US) with anxiety have restrained themselves from the general elation if not celebration of the conviction of Derek Chauvin for causing the death of George Floyd. The jury deliberated for 10 hours and found the police officer guilty of all three counts of second and third degree manslaughter by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes 36 seconds.
We applaud the jury’s decision. It means justice for George Floyd. However, a closer look at the statistics shows that the conviction of Chauvin is but one out of hundreds of unjust acquittals, some of them quite provocative. Thus, it is more of an exception, not the rule.
Before Floyd’s killing, the world had wondered why black activists launched the “Black Lives Matter” campaign. It appeared redundant. Who did not know that black lives mattered? Floyd’s death demonstrated to the world why blacks were literally an endangered species, and why the police often thought blacks were expendable, and could be murdered without consequences. African Americans, long suffering, disrespected, mistreated and dehumanised for centuries, are always the victims of unspeakable and, sometimes, barbaric and outrageous cruelty. They find consolation in Negro spirituals, seek refuge in the black church, and count on humanity to come to their aid. They got very little help during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow periods (1865-1964) when they were terrorised by the Ku Klux Klan, hanged at random and reduced to being three-fifths of a human being as determined by the US Supreme Court. And thus, it is sometimes mind-numbing to imagine what African Americans have gone through in the 400 years of their inhuman subjugation by White America.
George Floyd’s video evidence obviously went a long way probably in persuading the jury. However, Rodney King’s barbaric beating by police was also on video, yet it did not prevent the jury from recommending an acquittal. The city of Minneapolis and many Americans actually expected an acquittal. Having literally boarded up, deployed a National Guard military contingent, put up barbed fences liberally in the city, everyone expected the worst. It was such a relief when the jury’s decision was announced.
George Floyd’s death has changed a few things. First, the estimated 23 million Americans who protested his death and millions more who did the same all over the world left an indelible impression last summer. The eyes of those millions finally opened to the savagery of America’s racist, discriminatory judicial and policing system. The world hopes, and justice demands that they be remembered by the Republican Senate caucus when it is time to vote for the “George Floyd Justice and Policing Act” which has passed the House of Representatives. The Act is thought to hold up some hope for real change in the system.
Secondly, even the Police could not continue with their age-old impunity as exemplified by police witnesses in the case who testified against one of their own. It was unprecedented and policemen against Chauvin included his bosses, the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the training manager, other officers who denounced Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd. It used to be the practice that police would band together for self-protection and thwart justice. Is this a change of heart or a review of ethics? Only time will tell.
Last year, the Minneapolis County voted to abolish the police. It is uncertain if that decision contributed to police change of attitude. A lot of Americans are openly canvassing the idea of cities without police, as we now know it, and the basic argument is that if it is fairly certain that the police cannot be reformed, and therefore beyond redemption, given numerous but futile attempts in the past, then it is incumbent on the society to reconfigure how to protect itself, police being a fairly new invention in human society.
The unwillingness of the American judicial system to treat all Americans equally is a systemic failing. The denial in white society of the existence of structural racism and white supremacy is clearly an ostrich game which ought to end now that the world has seen its manifestations. It has made the United States weaker.
How long would the Police resist accountability? The police have held out for too long on this issue and any future reform must include accountability. It is remarkable that in less than five days after the jury’s decision on George Floyd, four more blacks have been killed by the police, one of them a young woman. The Joe Biden administration must no longer postpone the issue of police reform. It gives the United States a rotten image worldwide in addition to the great misery and anxiety it causes its black population.