There’s Hope for Racial Justice in America. But it Comes from the People – Not the CourtsRoundup
tags: racism, policing, George Floyd
Simon Balto is assistant professor of African American history at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.
On Tuesday afternoon, a jury confirmed what many of us have known to be true for the better part of a year: the former Minneapolis police department officer Derek Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd.
On Wednesday morning, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, announced a justice department pattern-or-practice investigation to determine if the Minneapolis police department’s general operating norms are unlawful and unconstitutional, in violation of the rights of the citizens they police.
Both of these legal decisions have been hailed as important civil rights victories. Shortly after it was announced, CNN’s Van Jones called the justice department investigation “a very big deal”; the former federal civil rights prosecutor Jared Fishman called it “hugely significant”.
As for Chauvin’s guilty verdict, which literally made news around the world, George Floyd’s loved ones quite understandably celebrated and expressed relief with the decision, and pointed towards it as a hopeful signal of a potentially more just future. Darnella Frazier – the heroic then 17-year-old whose recording of Chauvin’s murder of Mr Floyd served as critical evidence in the trial and disproved the lies embedded in the Minneapolis police department’s initial fabricated report of the killing – wrote on Facebook: “George Floyd we did it!! justice has been served.” Ms Frazier spoke for many people across the globe when she saw justice in the outcome.
And yet, as the news of Chauvin’s conviction spread, so too did a parallel story: 20 minutes before the guilty verdict had come down in Minneapolis, police in Columbus, Ohio, had shot dead 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Ms Bryant, a Black child, is at least the 65th person killed by police in the United States since Chauvin’s trial began late last month; as the New York Times reported, as of last weekend, police were killing an average of three people a day throughout the course of the trial.
Mariame Kaba, one of the most visionary thinkers about and organizers against the prison-police-industrial-complex in the United States, has often said that “hope is a discipline”. Hope here is not synonymous with optimism, but is rather an everyday practice and a philosophy of living – “believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change”.
I refer here to Kaba’s philosophy of hope because it is so hard to see the news of the police killing another child and not feel hopeless. This is especially true when thinking about the killing of Ms Bryant alongside last month’s police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago; we are literally talking about children being killed by the police. The constancy of police violence in this country can seem as overwhelming in its ubiquity and intractability as it is cruel and devastating in its particulars.
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