I needed a few days to process the news that Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. Like many who dedicate themselves to justice and to the reform of policing in this country, I was elated; elated that the prosecution team poured their hearts and souls into securing this result, elated that Chauvin’s former colleagues did not hide behind the blue wall of silence and testified against him, elated above all else that each member of that jury got it and held Chauvin accountable for his actions.
But I am concerned too. I am concerned that people will, as when Barack Obama was elected President so many were so quick to believe we had moved past race in this country and that all was well, believe that the system is indeed not broken, that deep reforms are not needed, that business as usual may carry on.
Consider for a moment that while this trial was in progress another young black man was shot and killed by a Minneapolis-area police officer. On the day of the verdict, a 15-year-old black girl was shot and killed in Columbus, OH. A friend of mine posted on Facebook “guilty on everything. But make no mistake about it. This isn’t justice. George Floyd is still dead. Justice would be living in a country where people aren’t killed by state actors.”
So yes, we may take a moment to rejoice, to feel the elation that a system that so often gets it wrong, got it resoundingly right in this case. But we must also understand that this result had everything to do with the organizing and activism that preceded it and that what it signals is a cry to keep pushing further, not to stand down.
This is why I was extremely heartened to hear that Attorney General Garland has launched a civil rights “patterns and practices” probe into the Minneapolis Police Department. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department had completely abandoned its oversight role with respect to local police departments and prosecutors' offices.
Events like the death of George Floyd do not happen in a vacuum. And treating every instance of police misconduct as an individual event that can be solved through the prosecution of “bad apples,” is not a winning strategy in the fight for police reform. To wit: Derek Chauvin had more than a dozen use-of-force complaints in his career. This is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions.
But all of these phenomena: the prosecution of George Floyd, the actions of the Biden administration, the increased attention being paid to police misconduct…they are happening because of us. They are happening because we are insisting our voices be heard and that action is taken. We must continue to do so, this fight is not over.
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