With the announcement Tuesday that Derek Chauvin was guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd jubilation erupted across the United States and beyond. TV commentators in particular were quick to herald the event as a turning point in race relations in the US. “A moment in history,” some were saying.
Black leadership in the US took a more nuanced view. Kamala Harris, the first Vice President of colour said, “black Americans, especially black men, have been treated across this country as if they are not men,” said the former senator. “We still have to reform the system.”
Former President Barak Obama responded in a similar tone, “today a jury in Minneapolis did the right thing,” Barack Obama wrote. “But if we are honest, we know that real justice goes much further than a single verdict in a single trial, we can’t stop there.”
On CBC’s The Current today, Dr. Ricky Jones, Chair of Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville had a significantly different view on the Chauvin verdict from that of the media. He reiterated comments he wrote in the Louisville Journal where he said, “Understandably, civil rights luminaries, Black people and their allies celebrated the result of Chauvin’s trial all over the country because they’ve seen so many police officers kill Black people and walk away unscathed. Chauvin being cuffed and marched out of the courtroom was righteous, but let us not overreact.”
“The tendency of television pundits and others to overstate the systemic impact of Chauvin’s conviction is disturbing. In many ways their jubilation reeks of intellectual immaturity and a poor contextualization of history. The Chauvin verdict does not prove America now values Black people any more than it did before George Floyd took his last breath.”
Jones went on to ask how things might have been different if a 17-year -old high school student, Danella Frazier hadn’t been standing outside the store where George Floyd died. She pulled out her phone and videotaped the entire ordeal. Jones said the video forced senior police officers to condemn Chauvin. Had she not provided that video, the original account of events by the Minneapolis Police might have stood. Their initial news release of the event, according to the New York Times, was headlined, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” It said Mr. Floyd, who was not identified by name, “physically resisted officers” on the scene who had ordered him out of his vehicle. “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress,” the release said. The officers called for an ambulance and Mr. Floyd was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where he died, it said.
Ms. Frazier, one of the first witnesses to testify against Chauvin said, “I see a man on the ground, and I see a cop kneeling down on him,” Frazier recalled in her testimony, and she knew that “it wasn’t right”
Frazier told prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends.” Despite her bravely continuing to videotape as police intimidated the small gathering of people standing with Ms. Frazier says she feels guilt, telling the court, “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
Amazingly it took 91-year-old- evangelical TV host Pat Robertson to put his finger on the issue. He started by holding up a Glock pistol and a yellow plastic taser as he talked about the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, inviting 700 Club viewers to understand how someone could not tell the difference between the two. He also criticized the actions of police in other violent interactions with Black people including the Floyd murder. Robertson, who is anti gay, anti abortion, anti Muslim and anti anything liberal, nonetheless gave a damning critique of American police for an “onslaught” of violence against Black Americans, blaming a “low-paid” force consisting of “not the best and brightest”. Police forces in some states pay their officers less than $40,000 per year. The average pay in Canada is just over $100,000 which would be $80,000 US.
Some observers said it’s one thing for a police chief to condemn an officer when confronted with a video like the George Floyd video, but most of the interactions between police and black people take place out of the public eye and things wont get better until there is a cultural shift among rank and file officers. Street cops have to call out their colleagues when they see abuse taking place. Said CNN’s Don Lemon Tuesday, “police officers around the country are going to have to do things. They’re going to have to hold their fellow officers accountable. There were other officers involved in this particular(Floyd) incident, and in that moment, they did not, it doesn’t seem they held their fellow officers accountable,” Lemon said. “Yes, it’s incumbent upon the citizens to hold these police officers accountable. But it’s going to be incumbent upon the organizations and the fellow officers who are there every day with those officers who are not doing the right thing to hold them accountable.”