George Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic, and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
The centerpiece of the case was an excruciating video of Floyd gasping repeatedly “I can’t breathe” whilst onlookers pleaded with the police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 27 seconds, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis before quickly spreading to over 2000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Polls in summer 2020 estimated that between 15 - 26 million people had participated at some point in the demonstrations in the United States, making the protests the largest in U.S. history.
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past
Relief, even if fleeting and momentary, is a feeling that Black Americans have rarely known in America: From slavery to Jim Crow segregation to the enduring punishments for being Black, a breath of fresh air untainted by oppression has long been hard to come by. The fate of Chauvin — whose sentencing in two months is expected to remand the former police officer to life in prison — shows Black Americans and their compatriots that the U.S. legal system is more accountable to itself than ever before.
“This may be the beginning of the restoration of believing that a justice system can work,” said civil rights leader Martin Luther King III. “But we have to constantly stay on the battlefield in a peaceful and nonviolent way,” he said. “One case, one verdict, does not change how systematic racism has worked in our system since its founding.”
President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday from the White House hours after the verdict alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, with the pair affirming the country’s work is far from finished with the verdict. “We can’t stop here,” Biden declared. Yet for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), the lack of riots in the streets of Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night after the verdict was somehow evidence that Americans should be terrified of the Black Lives Matter movement. “DC is completely dead tonight,” Greene tweeted. “People stayed in and were scared to go out because of fear of riots. Police are everywhere and have riot gear. #BLM is the strongest terrorist threat in our county.”
In response, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) tweeted, “I’m in DC like @mtgreenee & she is either the most obtuse person elected to Congress or the biggest liar. People are out & about on a warm night (so loud by me it’s a bit hard to get to sleep) & there is no more police presence than usual. Let the lies rest, Q1.”
I, Too, Sing America
Following the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement and beyond — white-owned newspapers and politicians across the South served as cheerleaders for white supremacy. Their racist coverage and remarks had sometimes fatal consequences for African Americans who continue to struggle for equality. “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality,” Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Justice implies a reckoning and neither a $27 million settlement, nor a conviction of a former police officer, can produce the resuscitation of a life. It produces an accountability to the standards, practices, constitution and principles of the United States of America. Closing the gap between accountability and racial equality may be justice. But love and peace, as Dr. King observed, would render accountability and justice an antiquated, altogether unnecessary and laughable footnote in the human experience.