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That collective exhale you hear is not just weed smoke exiting lungs on 4/20…it’s a country shaking off the edge it’s been on for 11 months.
It took the conviction of Derek Chauvin for us to feel that some tincture of justice was served following his murder (we can legally, officially call it murder now) of George Floyd, in whose neck Chauvin buried his knee for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. A June sentence has been set by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill.
Floyd’s murder on video was the catalyst for an unprecedented 50-state and multiple-country string of protests for Black lives, no doubt driven in part by frustration during the nascent days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was stuck in the crib seeking purpose. For the manifold peaceful protests, there were also numerous incidents of rioting, unrest and property destruction that rocked several major cities late last spring.
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Fear of returning to the days of boarded-up buildings and curfews had us tuning in live to the Chauvin verdict, watching our screens with our fists clenched white like it was the last few seconds of a NCAA Final Four game. That we got the response we wanted allowed us to finish the work day with a sense of peace and the ability to tune into the Redman and Method Man Verzuz with a clear(ish) mind instead of hurriedly reaching out to our loved ones to go in the house and lock the doors. I haven’t seen this many Black folks happy on social media since we got Donald Trump out of the White House almost six months ago.
I, however, am a bit more measured in my joy: I cracked the same smile of relief everyone else did when watching the verdict, but it’s still bittersweet. First, there was the fact that it wasn’t the slam-dunk case it should’ve been; the defense team’s attempt to pin Floyd’s death on his drug use was legally smart but ethically grody – insisting Floyd “contributed” to his own death by being on drugs is tantamount to blaming the overweight guy for dying because he couldn’t outrun the axe murderer. Floyd, like damn near every Black man killed by the cops, failed to obtain “model victim” status, and I was scared it would forfeit the justice he deserved.
Indeed, one can’t be faulted for not getting excited at the Chauvin verdict because the system that created Chauvin remains bankrupt. It’s almost insulting that we need to view these victories as slam dunks and hit the streets in celebration like the conclusion of Return of the Jedi when the bullshit persists. It’s like Ice Cube’s character Fudge says after his crew whips skinhead ass in “Higher Learning”: “One beatdown’ll never compare to 439 years of captivity.”
One reckless cop removed from the streets – and all of the energy we put into his actions last year – won’t do much to shock a system in a country which refuses to reform gun laws despite a litany of evidence suggesting its necessity. Look no further than the fact that the Chauvin verdict came at a time when we’re being inundated by more publicized instances of extrajudicial police killing and bad behavior.
There’s Joe Gutierrez, who unloaded a vat of pepper spray in the eyes of Army Lt. Caron Nazario when he calmly inquired as to why he was being pulled over in Virginia. There’s Kim Potter, the ex-Minnesota police officer who killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop when she “mistook” her taser for her gun despite being a trained police officer for nearly three decades who was actually training other officers that day.
There’s Chicago policeman Eric Stillman, who shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo March 29 following a foot chase in the early morning darkness. And just as I’m writing this, we’re learning about the still-unfolding story of 16-year-old Ma’Kiah Bryant, who was fatally shot in Columbus, Oh. April 21. So much for taking time to enjoy a victory, eh?
What do each of the aforementioned incidents have in common…? A whole mess of “good” silent cops hiding behind the blue shield of loyalty. It’s the reason you can still count the number of cops convicted for the murder of Black people on one hand and have enough fingers left over to send a lengthy text to your ex.
So, what can we do to at least attempt to move the goalposts that benefit this imbalance of police power? Continue advocating for police reform that, among other things, prevents cops from using training as an excuse to murder citizens and get away with it. Bug your local and national politicians and lawmakers to build a police culture that might not even include firearms on beat cops. Take a cue from Nazario and turn your phone camera on every time a cop pulls you over. If you’re an ally (or hell, if you’re another Black person), keep an eye on interactions between police and Black folks from afar.
Chauvin is looking at decades behind bars. That’s certainly a win for us all. But it’s not nearly enough – don’t wait until the next murder hits the media for you to realize it.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.