“Justice for George Floyd,” chanted countless protesters, countless times, in countless locations throughout 2020. Since Floyd died under the knee of former police officer Derek Chauvin last May, systemic racism, particularly within the police, has been at the forefront of conversation globally. Statues of slave owners have been toppled, protesters have been arrested, petitions have been signed and too many tears have fallen. We demanded change. Last night, when Chauvin was found guilty of murder, we got it.
Of course, that change was not a seismic shift that now leaves us in a post-racial utopia. It was, in fact, the bare minimum that we should be able to expect from those in power: holding the guilty to account. But from previous, highly-publicised cases of police brutality, we have become accustomed to seeing those who brazenly kill Black people walk away with nothing but a stain on their conscience – if that. The people responsible for the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and many, many more remain free to live their lives as they please. All things considered, Chauvin’s guilty verdict comes as a surprise. Even he looked shocked by his sentence. He had expected to get away with it, as all those before him had. It was the face of a man who had never experienced consequences.
Technically, justice has been served. A killer has been forced to face the legal consequences of his actions (assuming the sentence, coming down in eight weeks, fits the crime). Floyd’s family may hopefully now be able to find some sense of closure. But this doesn’t feel like justice. There is no equity between the Chauvin verdict and Floyd’s murder. Nothing about Floyd’s death was fair.
Instead, we are left with relief, a brief moment of respite after months of so much pain. It’s been especially exhausting to be a Black person since Floyd’s death. We’ve seen news of more Black deaths pop up on our timelines on a regular basis, often accompanied by images or videos of the violence. We’ve seen our existence and lived experiences be debated on national television, as though we’re the ones being put on trial for speaking our truths. We’ve seen the likes of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two people during protests in Kenosha, Illinois, be treated with more mercy than Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed while asleep in her bed – or 15-year-old Makiyah Bryant, who was fatally shot by police just 25 minutes before Chauvin’s verdict was announced. She was holding a knife. Rittenhouse walked towards police with an AR-15 style rifle straight after the shooting, but wasn’t even arrested until he later turned himself in.
So, no, Chauvin being found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter does not right the wrongs we’ve been fighting against. But at least, for once, salt has not been rubbed in the wound of his death. The verdict may feel inadequate, but it is still historic.
A new precedent has been set and we must fight to preserve it – for Bryant’s sake, for the sake of every Black person who feels unsafe when confronted with police officers. It’s unlikely that this verdict would have been reached at all were it not for footage of the incident. It took a murder on video to get the result. The outcome reinforces the efforts of every activist and protester who has refused to be silenced over the past 11 months. As the movement grew in strength, Black Lives Matter has been persistently smeared and delegitimised by right-wing governments and commentators. At times, efforts to promote and engage with anti-racism have seemed futile, like banging your head against a brick wall graffitied with “hates woke nonsense”, illuminated by a gaslight. But we now know that these efforts were and are not in vain – that’s only how the beneficiaries of white supremacy want us to feel. We must support each other to ensure they do not wear us down. We must not give up.
But for now, let’s take a moment to reflect, to process, to at least attempt to heal from the emotional trauma of the past year. There’s no victory to celebrate here, but there is the life of a father and son, who was known to his loved ones as “Big Floyd”. Now is the time to honour George Floyd’s memory without the pain and anguish that comes with fighting for his killer to be punished. He leaves a legacy that no one would ever ask for. We shouldn’t pretend he was a martyr. We should instead continue to say his name, with love and hope, rather than rage and frustration. Rest in peace, George Floyd. You will never be forgotten.