NEARLY a year after the heinous murder of George Floyd, 46, by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, justice was finally served on Tuesday when a Hennepin County District Court found the officer guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. That this would be the first time in Minnesota State that a white police officer would be charged and convicted for the death of a black civilian signal hope that institutionalised racism and its handmaiden of police brutality against blacks will be rolled back.
Chauvin had on May 25, 2020, knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while arresting him on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20. Floyd’s constant plea of “I can’t breathe” touched a raw nerve globally but was ignored by the murderous police officer who had served for nearly 20 years. Indeed, Chauvin’s dismissal and conviction are worth celebrating. However, it does not in any way signal the end of the struggle.
The United States President, Joe Biden, admitted in his speech after the conviction of Floyd’s killer that indeed the battle was not yet over and stressed the need to fight systemic racism in policing nationwide. “No one should be above the law, and today’s verdict sends that message. But it’s not enough. It can’t stop here. To deliver real change and reform, we can, and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again,” Biden said.
Indeed, Chauvin’s white chauvinism reflects everything that is wrong with racial relations in America. Former President, Barack Obama, hit the nail on the head saying, “If we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial.” There are countless stories of young black men being killed by police officers for flimsy reasons.
Less than two weeks ago in the same state where Floyd was killed, a 20-year-old African American man, Daunte Wright, was fatally shot by a police officer, Kimberly Ann Potter, who claimed she accidentally grabbed her gun instead of a Taser, striking Wright with one shot to his chest. Recently, a viral video showed white police officers in Virginia assaulting a black US Army Second-Lieutenant, Caron Nazario, who was in his uniform.
In March 2018, another black youth, Stephon Clark, died after being shot at least seven times in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California, by police officers who were investigating an attempted burglary nearby. The two officers involved did not face criminal prosecution as they claimed that they feared for their lives, believing Clark had a gun when in fact all he had on him was his mobile phone. In November 2014, Tamir Rice, a boy of 12, was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio by a police officer after he refused to drop his toy gun.
It is most unfortunate that nearly 60 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the US, which portrays itself as the world’s moral compass has failed to effectively tackle systemic racism. For many years, young black men have been murdered, brutalised and unjustly arrested by those sworn to protect them. In most cases, the errant police officers are never convicted but only given a slap on the wrist.
According to the US Bureau of Justice, in 2018, black males accounted for 34 per cent of the total male prison population, white males 29 per cent, and Hispanic males 24 per cent. This is even though blacks make up only 13 per cent of the national population.
A 2017 report by the National Registry of Exonerations which looked at how race may influence whether someone is wrongfully convicted — and later cleared — of a crime they did not commit, showed that most innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated are black.
“They constitute 47 per cent of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in ‘group exonerations,’” the report read.
According to the Statista Research Department, the rate of fatal police shootings among black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 35 fatal shootings per million of the population as of March 2021.
But these are just symptoms of more fundamental issues. The rise in right-wing nationalism and white supremacy promoted by the likes of ex-President Donald Trump has deepened racial divisions in America. Sadly too, the Republican Party, which had through President Abraham Lincoln, abolished slavery in 1865, now less subtly, supports racism to appeal to its white base. This is most retrogressive.
A report by the Washington Post said Republican lawmakers in 43 states have proposed at least 250 laws that would limit the voting rights of blacks, a development which is being likened to the contraction of ballot access in the US during the post-civil war Reconstruction era when Southern states which supported slavery, curtailed the voting rights of formerly enslaved black men. Such institutionalised voter suppression and racism have no place in the modern world.
The US should promote and defend justice at home and abroad. Its foreign policy should reflect its domestic values. It smacks of double standards for a system that is callously skewed against minority groups, especially Blacks to claim leadership of the civilised world. As China’s Global Times rightly says, justice, not hegemony, is humanity’s common value.
Truly, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Civil rights groups like the Black Lives Matter movement and several others must not go to sleep, but continually put the authorities on their toes to put an end to institutionalised racism and expose the hypocrisy in the American system. Justice for George Floyd is just the beginning, the ultimate objective is the full realisation of equality so loftily espoused in the US Constitution.