So, on April 20th 2021, the jury in the case of the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Michael Chauvin (Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646) found the defendant guilty on counts of unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony (count I), third-degree murder, perpetrating an eminently dangerous act (count II), and second-degree manslaughter, culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk (count III). Great, well-done the United States of America, your legal system has managed to convict a white cop who—on May 25th 2020—murdered a citizen he was sworn to protect in front of the world as a witness. That was, quite literally, the very least that should have been expected, yet so many of us held our breaths, because it could have gone differently.
And from May 25th 2020 to April 20th 2021 (because you just have to stop counting sometime—and no, that isn’t supposed to be bloody humorous in any way), one hundred and eighty-one, let me say that again… 181… ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-ONE… ALMOST TWO HUNDRED men and women of colour, our fellow human beings, have been killed by police in the United States of America (Mapping Police Violence, 2021a). One hundred and eighty-one black people killed by those sworn to serve and protect them, and payed for by their own money, in less than a year. Just after the verdicts were announced, somebody said to me that the results of the Chauvin Trial were a “moment of pride” for the United States, and for social justice in general.
Tell that to 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant of Columbus, Ohio. I’m sure she’d be feeling incredibly proud if Columbus Police Officer Nicholas Reardon hadn’t shot her dead about three hours after the Chauvin verdict was announced.
Or try telling that to Daunte Wright, shot to death by Minnesota Police Officer Kimberley Ann Potter while the Chauvin trial was still on-going, and only a few miles away from the court house. But you’d have to tell his grieving family instead. My heart and deepest respects go out to all the loved ones of those who have fallen in such a manner.
Let us try and ignore the shame that we should all feel that the death of George Floyd even happened and that a trial was therefore necessary. Let us even forget that white liberals were, quite literally, pouring onto the streets to protest, and the blogosphere was filled with privileged white outrage—including posts on this blog, here, and here. Instead, let’s ask a few embarrassing questions shall we? For example, where has our white outrage been for the last year? Where has our moral fury been cowering on the almost 200 occasions since May 25th 2020? Because in that time, the numbers—that’s right, the waste of human life that is so great it is reduced to numbers on a page or screen—seem to tell us that nothing has changed, for all that outrage and moral foot stamping. Since George Floyd’s murder, there have been 966 police involved killings, recorded where “a person dies as a result of being shot, beaten, restrained, intentionally hit by a police vehicle, pepper sprayed, tasered, or otherwise harmed by police officers, whether on-duty or off-duty” (Mapping Police Violence, 2021b); and these are only the people that have been recorded. Of these 966 deaths, black people accounted for 18.7% of that number, despite only making up 13% of the United States population. 11.7% of those killed were identified as Hispanic, and in 359 cases, ethnic origin was unknown. Where has the impetus of the movement that arose around George Floyd’s death vanished to?
Take a look at this graph from the Mapping Police Violence data…
Retrieved from: https://public.tableau.com/views/PoliceViolenceperPD/RacialDisparities?:language=en&:embed=y&:embed_code_version=3&:loadOrderID=1&:display_count=y&publish=yes&:origin=viz_share_link
Read that heading again, “[d]isparities for Miami could not be calculated since every person killed by this dept was Black or Brown.” Everybody killed by the Miami police department over a seven year time period was black or brown, and the Chicago police killed black people at 22 times the rate of white people from 2013 to 2020.
I’m sorry, my white privilege is showing through a red mist of shock and righteous apoplectic indignation. And during all of this, when those of us of a similar mind should be hitting the streets in the most enraged demonstrations we can muster, the Republican Party are trying to pass legislation to make it more difficult, if not actually criminal to demonstrate. In Florida and North Dakota, Republican politicians (can DeSantis really be called a politician I wonder?), even proposed lifting laws on accidentally hitting protestors with a motor vehicle (R.I.P. Heather Heyer): Florida, HB 1; Indiana, Bill SB 285; North Dakota, HB 1203; Minnesota, HF 55; Iowa, Senate File 111. And don’t get me started on voting rights!
So while the result of the Chauvin trial might be cause for some celebration (let’s wait for the appeals shall we?), the whole world has been turning the same as ever it has. April the 20th 2021 was just another day in the land of the free (free only so long as you’re white, wealthy, male and heterosexual of course), and everywhere else. It was the same as May 25th 2020, April 11th 2021, and all the other dates on which ignorant, criminal, police violence took another non-white life and not enough, if anything, was ever done about it… by any of us, anywhere.
Lastly, the other day I put my old black hat on my old white head, and my 16-year-old daughter looked at me sadly and said, “Y’know, back in the UK, when they had the death penalty, a judge would put a black cap over his official white wig when he came to do the sentence. I don’t know why I thought of that.”
That last part was kind of a lie, we both knew why she’d thought of that. We had just heard about the death of Daunte Wright, and had been talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the furore surrounding the murder of George Floyd had abated, as—tragically—public feeling always does, because there is always more to follow. Amelia looked at my hat on my rapidly greying hair, over my old white face, and the imagery was pretty stark. I gave her a hug, and didn’t really know what to say. I thought, sometimes that kid is far too wise for her years. So I said just that, because young women need to hear a bit more of that sort of thing too… but that’s yet another rant for another post.
Edwards, F., Lee, H., and Esposito, M. (2019). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(34), 16793–16798. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821204116.
Mapping Police Violence. (2021a). Mapping Police Violence database download (MPVDatabaseDownload.xlsx). Retrieved from: https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/s/MPVDatasetDownload.xlsx.
Mapping Police Violence. (2021b). About the Data: Definitions. Retrieved from: https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/aboutthedata.
3 thoughts on “Just Another Day in the Land of the Free”
Paul, thank you for this excellent reminder that the struggle is not over. As you have so eloquently pointed out, it has barely begun.
If Black lives don’t matter, then my life doesn’t matter. The murder of George Floyd woke me up to the fact that I have lived a life of white privilege. I always knew it on some level, but I never before realized the true depth of that privilege, and the enormity of injustice in that. There will be no justice until NO ONE of color is treated badly, talked down to, injured, or killed because of the color of their skin.
I was surprised by tears after I heard the verdict yesterday. I’d expected to be happy if the verdict was guilty on all counts. But I’m still grieving for George Floyd, and for all the people of color who have died by police brutality. I’m grieving for so many who didn’t even get a trial, where police were not even charged for their deaths. I’m grieving that this is still happening.
But because I am an optimistic person by nature, I have a teeny, tiny sliver of hope in my soul that this verdict will be the beginning of the end of this injustice. I’m not naive; I know that true justice will take a great deal more time than it should to be fully realized. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, although I hope that before I die, I will be able to see real progress. It is my hope that this verdict will send a message to police everywhere that they can no longer murder people of color with impunity. I hope that humankind will not rest until justice exists for every person equally. I know I won’t.
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And what can anyone say to such an eloquent and heartfelt reply? Agreed and seconded on everything said Debi. All the very, very best to you and yours.
Thank you, Paul. And the same to you and yours.
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