The Significance of Derek Chauvin’s Conviction

On the 25th of May 2020, the world watched George Floyd, a 46 year old African American man being killed. His daughter lost a father, his siblings lost their brother, and America lost another African American due to cruel systematic racism and police brutality. But George Floyd wasn’t going to be diminished into just another statistic or just a new member of the list that consists of black Americans like Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, and countless others that were unnecessarily killed by the unscrupulous police. His death was going to mean something.  

People around the world abandoned the “it is what it is attitude” and began protesting against injustice, racism and police impunity despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Protesters espoused the belief that accountability was essential and serious change was the need of the hour. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” resonated with every conscious mind. But why does the African American community feel like black lives do not matter? Simply put, it is because black Americans are discriminated against and rarely treated as equals to white Americans. They have a justified antipathy towards a policing system that constantly denies their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Undoubtedly, America has a major policing problem. Their lack of equanimity and regular precipitous decision making has led to numerous deaths. Like many other problems, police brutality disproportionately affects black Americans. Let us look at a quantified version of the egregious reality that black Americans have to live in every second of their lives. Data shows that a black person is 3 times more likely to be killed by the police even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than a white person. This disproportionality is further accentuated by the fact that African Americans account for 24% of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13% of the U.S.A’s population. For every million black Americans, 36 are killed by the police as compared to 15 per million white Americans. 

The occurrence of the Derek Chauvin trial went against all odds. Only 2.6% of cases of the police killing someone have led to charges being filed. The guilty verdict is even more astonishing as only 1% of cases have led to the police officer being convicted. Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three counts, namely, second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But George Floyd’s murder was different from other incidents that led to the police killing a black person. The standard excuses such as, “it was a split-second decision”, “the victim posed an imminent threat”, and “there is insufficient evidence”  went out the window as the world watched clear footage of Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed on a harmless, unarmed and complacent black man for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. The intensely watched trial and verdict have led to certain very distinct reactions. 

While it would be naive to think that the verdict is insignificant, it is safe to say that it does not signify the end of systematic racism in America. Justice is not and can not be such a rare occurrence that requires such arduous effort. It must become a norm, not an exception. The verdict assuaged some of the precarity and resentment held by people worldwide, especially, black Americans. It fueled scarce but precious hope and optimism for millions. However, a just and equal society is not created overnight. This was not a victory for the system, it was a victory for the African American community. A community that still has to face mental and physical trauma caused by racism and police brutality every day. Every member knows that there is nothing stopping them from becoming another victim of systemic racism and police brutality. This verdict is not a substitute for real, comprehensive and equitable system-wide policy changes. Police brutality and impunity is by no means a thing of the past. 

Between the 1st of January 2021 to the 18th of April 2021, there were only three days on which the police did not kill anyone. Only three days. Daunte Wright, a 20 year old man, Ma’Khia Bryant, a 15 year old girl and Andrew Brown, a 42 year old were recent additions to the list of black Americans needlessly killed by the police. Kim Potter, the officer that killed Daunte Wright has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. It would be devastating if the world got complacent now. 

Is real change over the horizon? Maybe. The French philosopher, Montesquieu said, “The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was formed”. Joe Biden was elected as the 46th President of the USA with one of the most prominent aspects of his campaign being the end of systematic racism. Police reforms are long-overdue and extremely urgent. Congress still has to sort out numerous contentious issues such as the removal of qualified immunity, ban of chokeholds, use of military equipment by local police officers, amongst others. Racial justice is not a left vs right issue or a conservative vs liberal issue, it is and always will be a human rights issue. Congress must pass legislation, whether it is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the Justice Act, or any other bipartisan act, that will make genuine improvements to the lives of black Americans.  Any change, incremental or consequential, must keep equality and justice at the forefront. People all over the world face racism, discrimination, police brutality, violence, and other similar problems that cause profound despair. The USA has an opportunity to show equanimity in eliminating these problems and be a recourse for everyone affected by these problems. The whole world is watching. 

For too long, black Americans have been denied their innate ability to achieve the American dream of rising up and being successful if you work hard. This pervasive racism must come to an end. Black Americans must no longer live in fear of receiving inexorable death sentences for trivial reasons. Racism and police brutality are not incorrigible.  

George Floyd is an iconoclast. He will go down in history as the man who represented our insatiable need for justice, the power of unity, and the gift of hope in this imperfect and evil world. His life mattered. Remember his name.