Ex-cop Derek Chauvin is going to prison for murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
A cop is going to prison for killing a Black person. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen this outcome: Roy Oliver for murdering Jordan Edwards, Jason Van Dyke for killing Laquan McDonald and Amber Guyger for taking the life of Botham Jean.
On Tuesday, after the jury deliberated for 10 hours, the judge announced that Chauvin had been found guilty on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter. Almost a year after Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes over an alleged counterfeit bill, he is being held accountable for his crime.
The guilty verdict in Chauvin’s case is an unfortunate anomaly. It’s dreadfully rare for a cop to be held accountable for taking a Black life in this country. And it’s terribly exhausting as a Black person, especially one who works in media, to relive the cycle of nonaccountability that occurs over and over and over and over and over again.
The cycle has seemingly become routine: A Black person is killed by the state. We mourn. We protest. In the media, the victim’s story often gets reduced to the final moments of their life. Police reports highlight drug use, criminal history and any other harmful racial stereotypes in an effort to defend the officer and blame the victim for their own death. We demand charges and accountability. Too often, that doesn’t happen. In the event that the cops are indicted, it often leads to a trial that ends in acquittal. It’s all too predictable.
This guilty verdict is good news. I should be relieved, but I’m not. I’m exhausted. Even after refusing to watch the infamous video and skipping live footage from the Chauvin trial to protect my own sanity, I am quite possibly the most tired I’ve ever been in my career.
For the past year, Black people in America have been in what feels like a state of constant bereavement. In February 2020, a former cop in Glynn County, Georgia, gunned down Ahmaud Arbery while he was out jogging. The following month, police in Louisville, Kentucky, killed Breonna Taylor in her own home. Chauvin killed Floyd just two months after that. Two days after Floyd’s death, police in Tallahassee, Florida, killed Tony McDade. Even as the judge read Tuesday’s verdict, a cop in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.
This shit ain’t new, but combined with the harshly disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black people and the numerous Black cultural icons who’ve died, the past year has felt like extremely traumatic emotional whiplash.
Floyd’s death — and the video that the courageous 17-year-old Darnella Frazier recorded and posted to Facebook — was the catalyst to a more global Black Lives Matter movement as uprisings took place in the streets and in boardrooms. Non-Black people marked his death as the event that apparently made them more aware of the systemic injustices that Black folks face in America. Corporations pledged money and resources to show that they stand with Black lives.
It felt like a shift was happening, like maybe we could finally be optimistic about real change. But through the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, fervor for fighting for a world where Black people are humanized and protected faded.
Then, just a week prior to the verdict announcement, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was fatally shot 10 minutes away from the building where the judge announced the conviction.
I refuse to tell anyone how to process or react to this news. It’s surely an anomaly and a piece of hope that one day some future generation will live in a system that doesn’t kill Black people.
But I can’t celebrate right now. I can’t celebrate because Floyd didn’t ask for any of this. He was going to the store, for God’s sake. He didn’t ask to be a martyr, he asked for breath in his lungs.
Let’s be very clear about what today’s decision is: accountability, not justice. Accountability is necessary, as all too often the state literally gets away with murdering Black people, kids included. Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Rekia Boyd, Sean Bell and so many others are a testament to that. But let’s not confuse accountability with what these victims truly deserve.
Justice is a completely changed system that protects Black people, not hunts them down. Justice is these victims still being alive and able to live out their lives to the fullest. Justice isn’t renaming an area George Floyd Square and creating Black Lives Matter Street in the same areas that continue to oppress Black lives.
In October 2020, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania published a report that shows that racial disparities in police shootings remained unchanged. And the fact of the matter is that though Chauvin was convicted, police kill about 1,000 people each year. Bowling Green State University researchers found that between the beginning of 2005 and June 2019, only 104 non-federal law enforcement officers had been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges related to an on-duty shooting. In 2016, Lilly Workneh and I wrote a story naming some of the Black victims of police brutality whose killers walked free. The list wasn’t exhaustive.
As a Black journalist covering race, I am absolutely spent. My colleagues are, too. Exhaustion doesn’t encapsulate the heavy weight we’re carrying. Covering this news (and even consuming this news) comes at the risk of our mental health. Physical, too, for those in the field (CNN’s Omar Jimenez was literally arrested on camera while covering a protest in the aftermath of Floyd’s death).
We don’t have the ability or privilege to disassociate like our white colleagues. Imagine reliving the same news cycle over and over again, year after year, in a newsroom where there are only a few people who look like you. On top of that, your grief must coincide with your work. When we report on Black death and trauma, we’re most often mourning at the same time, and then we do it again after we step away from work.
This verdict doesn’t mean Floyd’s family stops grieving. It doesn’t mean that Black America has found solace in the justice system. And it damn sure doesn’t mean this country is magically a more equitable place for Black people.
I can’t be optimistic in an American justice system that doesn’t believe people who look like me should have equal opportunity to resources, basic fucking human rights like voting, health care, or even the ability to breathe.
I am hopeful, however, knowing that organizers, protesters and everyday Black folks continue to fight to do more than just survive, but truly live. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to lean on community in times of trauma and grief. I’m hopeful that we’ll find intentional and fulfilling moments of joy, constantly. I’m hopeful that we teach our babies — and each other — to be unapologetically proud of our heritage despite living in a society that wants us to do the opposite.
I’m more optimistic about our own quest for liberation than a broken system showing us what justice should be.
I just wish more of us could actually live to see what true justice is.