Now convicted murderer Derek Chauvin being led away in handcuffs. Photo: YouTube Screenshot.
Guilty on all three counts was the verdict that communities of color were hoping for in the Derek Chauvin murder trial but dared not believe it would happen if history is any guide.
Being Black in these United States is reason enough for the Police to stop, frisk and arrest without cause, such encounters frequently ending with the use of deadly force. Some recent victims of driving while Black are Daunte Wright and Sandra Bland; victims of walking while Black include Elijah McCain and Trayvon Martin; standing on a sidewalk while Black includes Eric Garner; living in the safety and privacy of home while Black includes Breoanna Taylor; and being a child playing while Black includes Clifford Glover and Tamir Rice. Simply existing as a Black person is justification for a Police officer to reach for his or her gun at the slightest or no provocation and use it with impunity.
The Police violence is not limited to black and brown men. The Washington Post in its September 4, 2020 edition reports 250 Black women have been killed by Police since 2015, an astounding 89 of them in their homes. Nothing less than a slow motion genocide is under way.
A study published in 2018 in the world’s leading medical journal, the Lancet, indicates that police killings of unarmed African Americans result in adverse effects on mental health among Black adults who are not directly affected by the incident. The cumulative effect of such violence in other words is community-wide psychological trauma.
After each killing there would be protests by the impacted community, calls by politicians for Police reform are heard. The killers often walk free, not accountable for their crime, protected by a racist ‘law enforcement’ cabal. Calling for reform is meaningless since the institution is incapable of reform, unable to shake off its racist roots-the slave patrol- from which it evolved- and remains mired in that mindset, the purpose and mission being essentially the same as in the past-Control of an oppressed population.
The murder of Trayvon Martin was perhaps a turning point. President Obama was moved to opine in his public remarks to the nation that “he could have been my son, or me 35 years ago”. George Zimmerman, the killer was initially not even arrested. He was later acquitted after a weak effort by the prosecution.
A new form of resistance started by three young visionary African American Women in reaction to that incident led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) and became a force to reckon with in Ferguson following the killing of Michael Brown. The killings of unarmed Black and Brown civilians continued with numbing frequency.
The agonizing death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 at the hands of the police officer Dereck Chauvin became a tipping point. Chauvin and three other officers pulled Floyd out of the car and placed him in prone position facedown on the hard surface of the road with his hands handcuffed behind his back, showing no resistance. Chauvin then put his knee on Floyd’s neck with the full weight of his body for a full 9 minutes and 29 seconds despite repeated pleas from George of “I can’t breathe”. Floyd took his last breath around 7 minutes into the murder. Chauvin continued the pressure on the neck with his hand in his pocket seemingly relishing his power over a black body. All of his depraved cruelty was in full view of the world thanks to the video recorded by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. It was painful to watch. The world saw how a man being executed in slow motion.
Days of sustained protests led by BLM erupted in all the major cities of the United States and around the world. Millennials of all races joined the demonstrations in solidarity, demanding justice with calls for defunding the Police. A white supremacist president, Donald Trump, called the peaceful protesters “rioters” and “looters” and even hinted that the military intervene. The same president later tried to carry out a coup d’état when he encouraged his fascist mob to attack the Capitol on January 6, after he lost the election.
The inciter in chief is no more and we now have a healer in chief. Appearing before the American people after the Chauvin verdict President Biden called on the nation to implement fundamental changes in the criminal justice system. He is supporting the George Floyd Police Reform bill now in Congress. Biden has acknowledged systemic racism and also showed empathy with the grieving family of George Floyd by giving them a phone call. What a difference in the quality of leadership. Biden’s words were soothing and comforting and set the appropriate tone for the occasion. It is now time for the President and Congress to move beyond words to action.
The entire concept of policing as we know it needs to be examined and the current system dismantled. Community-based policing that is for and by the community needs to be fashioned providing adequate funds to address the longstanding socioeconomic disparities and neglect. This is an essential and indispensable element in ensuring social peace and ensuring public safety.
The Chauvin verdict is a watershed moment. America is at a crossroads and the struggle should continue with vigor until equal justice for all becomes the norm.
A Luta Continua
Mohammed A. Nurhussein MD is a retired physician.