A 77-year-old white president who on the campaign trail was confused for being hopelessly racially disconnected, hailed the verdict as a triumph of racial justice. And immediately after that verdict, he promised the black community – and directly to George Floyd’s family – that a change was coming.
For a country plagued by a pandemic, a year of protests, a bitter presidential campaign colored by ugly racial invectives and a failed insurgency, the verdict has felt, for many, something like relief.
But even with the conviction of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, it was reminded that a case does not equal systemic change.
On the one hand, the guilty verdict in one of the most closely watched police brutality trials is a victory for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his team of prosecutors. It’s also a victory for progressives and grassroots activists who have kept Floyd’s name at the forefront of American consciousness through protest rallies, speeches and on social media.
And without a doubt, Chauvin’s guilty verdict gives hope to those who are convinced the justice system is rigged against black men like George Floyd, whose death from asphyxiation was captured on cellphone video during almost 10 agonizing minutes.
The growing evidence against Chauvin even seemed to prompt some conservatives to admit that the 19-year-old veteran Minneapolis officer was not someone to be shown deference.
“Even if you ‘support the blue,’ Chauvin is not that,” according to the Twitter account for Utah tea. “Long history of complaints and abuse before the death of George Floyd.”
But even in the festive mood there was a note of caution, a feeling like this was only a victory in a very long battle for equal justice. And there were concerns that this was a unique and made case, that a guilty verdict by a white police officer would be used as an example of how the system works – and that it doesn’t need a massive overhaul.
Ellison alluded to it during his post-election press conference. While congratulating the jury on its ruling in the Chauvin case, he said the verdict was not enough to do justice to so many other black men and women who were killed or seriously injured in encounters with police. .
It was not justice, Ellison stressed, but “responsibility.” Then he invoked the names of other victims of police brutality: Rodney King. Abner Louima. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Anton Black, Breonna Taylor …
“This has to end,” Ellison said. “We need real justice … a social transformation that says no one was under the law and no one is above. This verdict reminds us that we must make it systemic sustainable. Societal change. “
Former President Barack Obama, in a statement echoed Ellison’s demand for systemic change.
“True justice demands that we accept the fact that black Americans are treated differently every day,” said the country’s first black president. “It forces us to recognize that millions of our friends, family and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last. “
President Joe Biden, in an appeal to Floyd’s family immediately after the verdict, seized the moment, appearing moved as he reminded them of how Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, said her “daddy changed the world.”
“We’re going to start changing it now,” Biden said. “I wish I could have been there to put my arms around you.”
“America, let’s stop for a moment”
Immediately after the verdict, the Reverend Al Sharpton held a press conference with the Floyd family and their attorney Benjamin Crump, known as “the attorney general of black America”. The atmosphere: triumphant. Jubilant, even.
“Let’s stop for a moment, to proclaim this historic moment not just for the legacy of George Floyd, but for the legacy of America,” said Crump. “The legacy of trying to make America for all Americans so that George Floyd’s victory and America’s quest for equal justice before the law are intertwined.”
But watching the trial itself was anything but jubilant. Watching the trial was a trauma. Over and over again, those listening were forced to watch the last few minutes of George Floyd’s life, as he begged for air, relief, for his mom. Although many black men and women had died at the hands of the police before and since him, his case was… different.
This was not done in the dark of night, but rather under the setting sun of a holiday weekend and in front of a group of mostly black and brown passers-by, many of them pleading for the officer relinquishes the hold on Floyd’s neck. Pleading for the officer to allow him to breathe.
These images were read and played back from countless angles throughout the trial. From different points of view in hammer-to-hammer TV coverage.
From the start, the Chauvin affair has been a question of race. What if black and brown communities that come into contact with the US criminal justice system are treated fairly under the law.
This trial provided an unvarnished look at how excessive police force is exerted in real time, particularly when a suspect is a black man. The law enforcement presumption was not innocent until guilt had been established, but rather guilty on sight and clearly threatening. A threat.
Prosecutors presented the now-familiar details of Floyd’s murder to the jury: Police were called to the scene of Cup Foods in South Minneapolis at the corner of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street.
Floyd, the police alleged, had tried to buy cigarettes with a fake $ 20. Chauvin’s defense team called it a “serious crime” before the jury.
And Floyd finally paid for it with his life.
But someone had the presence of mind to capture Chauvin digging his knee into Floyd’s neck. And this time around the world, protesters of all races have taken to the streets to demand justice.
This steady pace of protests galvanized federal lawmakers to pass a sweeping federal police reform bill in March. They named him after George Floyd.
The measure would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement and ban strangulation by federal agents. It was hardly a bipartisan effort – only one House Republican crossed party lines to get it passed.
Tuesday’s guilty verdict puts more pressure on the Senate to pass the legislation, which has been stalled for weeks. It has been reported that discussions are continuing between a handful of Senators including Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Tim Scott (RS.C.) to see if a framework agreement can be reached on a measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, following the verdict, seemed aware of the potential political implications of the verdict, clumsily equating Floyd with a martyr during a press conference with the Congressional Black Caucus:
“Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice,” she said. “Because of you and because of the thousands, millions of people around the world who have come forward for justice, your name will always stand for justice.”
As for Biden, getting out before the verdict likely gave him a boost from the activist community.
Earlier Tuesday, while meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the president told reporters: “I pray that the verdict is the right verdict, which I think is overwhelming in my opinion.” Later, speaking to the nation, he said, it took Herculean efforts “to get the justice system to account for only basic accountability.”
But even within weeks of the trial, people, mostly people of color, continued to die at the hands of the police, from Daunte Wright a few miles from the Hennepin County courtroom where the jury determined the fate of Chauvin, at 13 years old. -old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
However, something has changed.
Arthur Rizer, both a retired federal prosecutor and a former police officer, said the Chauvin trial was unique in a notable way – and very important: so many officers have testified against their former colleague.
And that’s a good thing, said Rizer.
“You really saw that blue wall crumble,” Rizer said.
He adds that we must put an end to the police culture which encourages officers, like Chauvin, to believe that there are no limits to the exercise of their discretionary power.
“I hope this is a turning point.”
Or maybe not. Tuesday afternoon, just before the jury returned their verdict in the Chauvin trial, some 750 miles east in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. Her aunt told the Columbus Dispatch that her niece was holding a knife to defend herself in a fight and that she called the police for help. She said the girl dropped the knife when she saw the police.
She was shot four times.
Her name was Makiyah Bryant.