It is hard to feel relief or safety in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin verdict.
The embedded white supremacy in America makes it that way.
Where were you when the jury declared Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges for the murder of George Floyd on April 20th, 2021?
Personally, I was working on an article on how police officers have gotten away with maiming and killing Black people. I had been given the assignment to write the piece no matter the outcome of the trial. I had just begun polishing up the draft to submit as the judge read the jury’s decision. My mother and one of my older sisters was in the living room with me. As the judge read the first verdict, the silence in the room and outside was massive. It was as if the wind and the earth made a joint decision to pause if only for these few seconds. At the first “guilty” verdict, I exhaled and pumped my fist reflexively. I watched Chauvin’s eyes, the rest of his face covered by the medical mask that’s commonplace during this time of the pandemic. He looked as stunned as I felt, but obviously for different reasons. He probably never felt he would’ve been found guilty on all three charges. Imagine. To be that callous, that sure of your white privilege and the protections afforded by the system and to realize at that moment you wouldn’t have them in full like you thought.
My phone went off like mad, and I was swept up in a frenzy of texts & calls.
I managed to finish up my article draft and submit it, reflecting the news of the verdict. Then I sat and realized that I was relieved. Not overjoyed. As if I
felt that to do so meant that something else was going to come along and put a damper on everything. Still, I watched the news coverage of people in the streets of Minneapolis, hugging each other and weeping. Finally, there was accountability.
I felt for George Floyd’s family, all gathered to speak to the press afterwards. They had fought and struggled, with a great deal of people in the streets protesting behind them to get the measure of justice for their brother who was essentially tortured and murdered for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds all over a purported counterfeit $20 that as the Reverend Jesse Jackson would remark later the public has yet to see entered into evidence.
It took that horrid video, replayed over and over, to get a crumb of justice as it was supposed to be. It took that video of George Floyd pleading to breathe, calling out for his mother with his last gasps, a video shot by a brave teenage girl who knew that what she saw was fucking WRONG more than Chauvin and the other three officers there. And yet without that video, none of this would’ve even happened. That’s how embedded white supremacy is within the American system.
A short time later, I see a name on social media pop up over and over again. Ma’Khia Bryant.
“Oh no. Oh no.” That was all I could muster.
Ma’Khia Bryant was 16, and from every social media photo and post, a shy and glowing young Black girl from Columbus, Ohio. She was living in a foster home, and had apparently been threatened with violence which prompted her to make the call to 911. Officer Nicholas Reardon arrived on the scene alone to see Ma’Khia and two other women outside in a struggle. The video that has been released (which I will not include here) shows Ma’Khia with a knife in her hand. He yells out “what’s going on?, and then moves to fire on Bryant. He lets off four shots, which killed her.
The time it took for Reardon to close his cruiser door to his firing the first shot? Ten seconds. Just ten seconds. You can hear bystanders yelling at the officers, wondering why he opened fire. The city of Columbus is now investigating the tragic affair, even breaking with regular protocol by releasing initial video as early as they did. Still, a young Black girl is dead at the hands of a police officer. Not a woman, as early reports would characterize her. That distinction matters, even more so as Chicago is roiled by the shooting of 13-year old Adam Toledo which law enforcement and even the mayor tried to justify.
It made the mood of the guilty verdict Chauvin received more bittersweet. The system worked as it was supposed to, to prove that no one is above the law. And just like that, Ma’Khia Bryant is shot and killed and the onus by some parts of municipal government is to go to tropes that have always served them. The same tropes that the defense tried to pin on George Floyd in craven desperation in the trial. You know the ones. The ones where Black children are never viewed as children. The one where Black people have superhuman strength and pain thresholds. Yes, Ma’Khia had a knife. But aren’t police officers trained to de-escalate situations? That’s what the billions of dollars in funding for these departments are for, right? If law enforcement can somehow have the restraint and composure to bring in numerous shooters without having to kill, why is that same restraint not consistently exercised when it comes to those who are Black and brown?
I mean, we’re four months removed from an insurrection attempt on the United States Capitol spurred on by the former president of the country and his sycophants. Yet those individuals were able to go home, and even get the benefit of the doubt by certain sections of the media AFTER ASSAULTING CAPITOL POLICE OFFICERS. ON CAMERA. They’ve even gotten glancing treatment by judges in their respective home states. Even the Capitol Police were reportedly directed to go after “anti-Trump protestors” the morning of January 6th.
The feeling I had then, and what I have now and have always lived with as many other like me do is this — Black people are fed up and tired. We’re tired because the spin that has been fed to us that this is a country where everyone is afforded equal protection under the law hasn’t been working as it should be.
I know I’m damn tired of Black and brown names being hashtags, and the cycle that takes place of having to agitate on social media and offline to try to force changes, to make the system work like they keep telling us it does.
I’m tired of the lackadaisical efforts from some white allies and those Black people who form that sliver of activism that seeks to be in it for the profit and the commercial proposals and book deals. I’m tired of the fact that some of us will overlook Ma’Khia’s death because she’s a Black girl and let their misogynoir override their cries for justice. I’m tired of the fact that Black children are six times more likely to be shot and killed by police as Black people on a whole are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites. As much as I was pleased that George Floyd’s murderer was held accountable, it shouldn’t have taken all that to bring that verdict about. Even the attorney general was uncertain of the outcome.
Maybe I’m just tired from us having to bleed out on the rubble left over from where all the values America holds dear like liberty and justice for all used to stand. And the fact that despite that fatigue, we have to press on. Because Derek Chauvin’s conviction cannot be an exception to the rule. And even if we gain victories in bending the arc of justice, we have to brace ourselves when there are those who would rather see us broken in these attempts than fully succeed.