When Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the murder of George Floyd, many of my peers celebrated with others around the country. But many also felt that it was just a momentary respite from the aggrieved, helpless outrage we all felt, especially those of us who have seen a loved one shot down like big game on the savannah by police in America.
Despite all the media coverage, it’s still open season on people of color.
To those of us who are intimately familiar with the rapacious, life-stealing presence of police in communities of color, the Chauvin verdict was like being at a poker table, repeatedly losing to the house, but finally winning a hand.
The Chauvin verdict is a light of hope for change, justice, and equity amid Black Death. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. If Chauvin had been found not guilty, the social unrest that sits on the edge of the nation’s consciousness would have imbued reality with all the anger and frustrations of people sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I hope Chauvin receives a sentence fitting the crime. Wouldn’t that be equitable given all that has come to pass? Isn’t equity what we’re after?
But what is equity? Many have expressed the desire to see Chauvin experience the worst that prison has to offer, including a life sentence, an ugly death, or both. That is anger talking, not justice. I don’t think he should be given any breaks or special treatment; I expect him to suffer all the indignities and deprivations any incarcerated person in America experiences. But true justice has to include not only penance but redemption and grace. We are far away from the latter two.
Redemption for Chauvin is contingent, in large part, on what he does with his life going forward, witnessed and experienced by people in his life. Grace will occur when time heals the broken hearts of the Floyd family, and they no longer feel the constancy of the pain and loss of George’s death so acutely; when George’s death no longer haunts their nightmares, and when May 25, 2020, becomes an instructional sliver of history.
As an incarcerated person, I live a life always pursuing redemption, forgiveness, and grace. I receive those things in small increments over time. And time moves in a slow, plodding way. I have to work hard to nurture and maintain a redemptive existence and retire debts owed. Chauvin’s work has yet to begin.
But maybe Derek Chauvin is just a proxy in the bigger issue of race, social justice, police accountability, and the invisible borders of our two Americas? The police, under the racist and opaque rubric of law and order, determine the penalties at the invisible borders that appear wherever they are.
If the depraved indifference of George Floyd’s murder had not been recorded, it would have been just another two-minute crime segment on the evening news.
I’m not an advocate for the abolition of the police, and I don’t believe all police officers are murderous cowboys. But as a person of color, any random encounter with the police has always been traumatizing, anxiety-inducing, and made me fear for my life. This is true for the majority of people of color.
Equity and justice equal systemic change. Change starts with the willingness of the police to view people of color as human beings with lives as sacred as their own.
Training has to be standardized across the nation with regard to the use of lethal force as an absolute last resort. Also, emphasis on community policing and engagement, and cultural sensitivity are all imperatives going forward.
Training cannot be the purview of random private vendors with disparate political, ethical, and cultural views. It should be the job of experts and stakeholders who take into account both sides, placing premiums on the preservation of life.
Rogue cops should be stripped of qualified immunity protections when their actions give rise to criminal and civil charges. States and localities should not sign on to collective bargaining agreements that give undue protections and rights to police officers over the citizens they are charged to protect. Cops found to have knowledge of misconduct but who choose to stand behind the blue wall of silence should be charged with conspiracy. Special prosecutors must be tasked with investigating all instances of police misconduct to ensure the impartiality and integrity of investigations in pursuit of restoring public confidence and trust.
Given all the horrific gun violence this country experiences, the refusal of legislators to pass meaningful legislation is unconscionable, placing us back at the invisible border between the two Americas.
This is an issue no concerned citizen should forget at the ballot box. It is both disheartening and confusing to know that some Republican legislators are criminalizing protest and demonstration when it’s one of the few formidable resources available to aggrieved communities of color.
Looting and the destruction of property are cited as the reason for the draconian legislative proposals, but were it not for the national protest, there would likely be no guilty verdict, the reforms that have taken place in some police departments would not have occurred, and I would not be writing this article.
Until police accountability becomes a part of police practice, we still have work to do.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.