In a rare moment in US history, a racist white cop, Derek Chauvin, has been convicted on April 20th of murdering an unarmed Black man, George Floyd. If this is a “turning point” for America, it was a long time coming. It took hundreds of years of resistance and resilience to get here.
It took 250 years of unrelenting systemic racism and white supremacy that enslaved and terrorized Black people, through the era of Jim Crow, and the rise of the KKK, who attacked Black people with impunity. The “freedom” they had been granted turned out to be a hollow promise and a cruel betrayal. Black people were forced to work as sharecroppers for their former slave owners, their cities were burned, and hundreds of them were lynched at “picnics” where white folks took photos, laughing in front of the “strange fruit” hanging from trees, as described by Billie Holliday in her haunting song.
It took the crushed lives of millions of Black, brown and people of color forced to live in chronic poverty and social despair, while they were “racially profiled,” arrested, brutalized, jailed and killed by racist cops with impunity for hundreds of years. When Black people organized and fought back, their leaders and organizers were spied on, infiltrated and hounded by the FBI. Law enforcement set out to destroy the Black Panthers; many were jailed, others like Fred Hampton were murdered.
It took the life of George Floyd, who was killed while he was in handcuffs, face down on a concrete street, by a racist cop, Chauvin, who had no regard for his humanity or his life.
It took millions of viewers who watched in horror the video of Floyd’s murder on social networks and the media. It was clear to millions of viewers that Floyd had been unjustly murdered and that Chauvin was guilty of this egregious crime.
It took the profound grief, outrage and determination of Floyd’s family, friends and community, and activists to speak out, protest and demand justice for almost a year after his death.
It took 26 million Americans who took to the streets in over 2000 cities to support Black Lives Matter in the largest social justice movement in the US.
It took countless acts of civil disobedience and activism in cities like Minneapolis where Floyd was murdered, where police precincts and stores were set on fire, windows were smashed, banks and govt. buildings were vandalized and covered with graffiti, bridges and roads were blocked, parks and civic spaces were occupied, statues of the founding fathers Washington and Jefferson, and Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee were toppled unceremoniously and spray painted with “Slave owners” and “Racists.”
It took over 100 consecutive nights of resistance and intense confrontations with the police, where thousands of protestors in cities like Portland were pounded by police and the federal troops sent by Trump, night after night with massive amounts of tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades, rubber bullets and projectiles.
It took the courage of thousands of people, willing to risk injury and arrest to resist police violence, racism and inequality. Almost 1,000 protestors were arrested in Portland during the BLM protests last year. 6,000 acts of police violence were documented during the BLM protests in Portland last year. But in the face of brutal police repression, many protestors did not back down.
Chauvin’s conviction meant that a racist cop was finally held accountable for killing a Black man, but accountability is not the same as justice. Systemic racism and white supremacy are entrenched in law enforcement and policing because America is still a deeply racist country which refuses to acknowledge its history and perpretation of white supremacy. Instead, liberals and politicians like Biden will celebrate Chauvin’s conviction as a “step towards justice,” as evidence that America is still the shining beacon of democracy and justice. They will use Chauvin’s conviction as justification that incremental reforms, not systemic change, will end racism in America. But Chauvin’s conviction will not stop police from killing more Black and people of color. No African American believes that.
Police reforms, including defunding or the banning of qualified immunity are significant steps to ameliorate police abuse, but they will not end police killings. The reforms are aimed at dealing with the symptoms of a sick country, but they will not exorcize the root causes of systemic racism and corruption.
There is no justice as long as Black, brown and people of color are deprived of their humanity and access to decent jobs, housing, education and health care. There is no justice as long as the primary role of the police is to control and terrorize the poor, workers and people of color, while serving and protecting the rich and powerful. There can be no justice without social equality, where the rich get richer, while millions of people are forced to live in abject poverty and despair. There can be no justice when police continue to target and traumatize people of color who have to live with the daily threats of police and state violence, incarceration, and murder. The recent killings of Daunte Wright, 20 years old, and Adam Toledo, 13 years old, by the police during the trial of Derek Chauvin clearly demonstrates that police reform is not enough. Only an honest reckoning with its history of settler colonialism and its toxic legacy of systemic racism, white supremacy and grinding poverty will lead to real social change and the transformation of America to where justice can prevail.