Even if there is accountability, for one murder, for one officer, on one day — that is still not justice. Today’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin case represents a small step for systemic change. But one single case does not fulfill the promise of “Justice for All.” In the face of staggering state violence, Black communities across the nation take solace in the fact that at least this time a police officer did not murder a civilian with impunity. This time there were consequences. This time they were held accountable. And while this is a welcome change in a long history of state-sponsored racialized violence, we cannot deny the glaring toll the repeated traumatization has had on Black communities.
The repeated begging for just one more breath, to no avail, played on repeat on every television, social media platform, or radio station is nothing short of torture. No one deserves to die the way George Floyd did. And the truth is, if you’re white in America, the chances are you won’t. It is a dystopian state of affairs to witness Black people being regularly killed at the hands of an institution that is sworn to protect and defend. It is inescapable. It is degrading. It is consuming. It is too much.
Since the beginning of the Derek Chauvin trial on March 29, law enforcement killed three people a day. Most recently, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old child in the West Side of Chicago was shot and killed with his hands up by a police officer. Only a few days prior, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis – a mere 10 miles away from the courtroom where Derek Chauvin was on trial for killing George Floyd.
The devastating yet all too familiar ease with which police officers end Black lives every day for seemingly minute incidents is emblematic of the systemic racism entrenched in institutions of law enforcement and beyond. Systemic racism enabled by billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of vital public services that actually foster healthy and stable communities. It is unadulterated and time-honored state-sponsored violence.
Our nation has a long history of using racialized violence to control Black communities. It is that very history of racialized violence and its legacy of systemic racism that condition police officers to instinctively perceive a Black person as a threat, even if that person is a child. Centuries of systemic racism have striped Black people of their humanity in the eyes of the state. White individuals like Dylan Roof and Kyle Rittenhouse are afforded dignity and respect in police custody irrespective of the severity of their crimes because their humanity is recognized. In stark contrast, Adam Toledo and Tamir Rice are seemingly devoid of humanity and deserving of the ultimate state-sponsored punishment, death. People of color, don’t get to be kids, they don’t get to make mistakes, they don’t get another chance.
There is no bias training powerful enough to undo centuries of conditioning. Systemic problems call for systemic solutions. We can start by enacting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a vital step towards meaningful change. But we cannot stop there. We must delve deep into the meaning of public safety and take decisive action to build healthy and thriving communities without the constant fear of state-sponsored violence at the hands of police forces.