DC residents gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza, across from the White House, on April 20, 2021 to hear the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis with trepidation and fear in their hearts. They had been demonstrating throughout the summer of 2020, despite the threat of COVID-19, since the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Cries of “I can’t breathe” became a national chorus as millions agitated to bring an end to systemic racist baiting and killing of African Americans by the police. The death of Mr. Floyd spurred the largest civil rights protests in decades.
As countless videos and recordings of police brutality flashed across the world stage, African Americans re-lived the indignity and horror of seeing their wounds of victimization exposed. And today they gathered across the country, in solidarity with their felled brethren as the verdict of the 10-day trial was announced. A collective sigh of relief greeted the news that Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He faces decades in prison and will be sentenced by Judge Cahill in about 8 weeks.
The most compelling piece of evidence, which likely swung the vote against Chauvin, was the video recorded by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier on her cellphone and uploaded to Facebook in May, igniting international protests over racism and police abuse. But, despite the global outrage and overwhelming evidence, it wasn’t until the verdict was read that people believed justice would be done.
And, justice was served. In addition to the sentencing of the murderer and compensation for the victim’s family, the US Department of Justice will undertake a sweeping investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a “pattern and practice” of illegal conduct, including whether officers routinely used excessive force during protests.
A wide-ranging police-reform bill bearing George Floyd’s name passed the US House of Representatives last month. It would ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and racial and religious profiling for federal law enforcement officers and put an end to qualified immunity. The bill would also encourage states to follow suit by making those bans a condition of federal aid.
But, despite the groundbreaking outcome of the trial, the political distance between the two political parties remains unchanged. The issues of racial justice and police accountability remain charged subjects. Republicans are in denial of facts—that African Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans and twice the rate of Hispanic Americans. That African Americans make up less than 14% of the population, but account for almost 24% of fatal shootings by the police. (Police kill about 1,000 people in the US annually.) That Black drivers were about 20% more likely to be stopped than white drivers and when stopped, they were searched up to two times as often as white drivers, although they were statistically less likely to be carrying illegal items. In 2019, African Americans made up sossme 13% of the US population, but represented almost a third of the country’s prison population.
Unlike the previous president whose racist dog-whistles brought death and destruction to the US Capitol in January 2021, President Biden has called racism a “stain on our Nation’s soul.” In the aftermath of this verdict and congressional action we dare hope for police reform and training that will reduce racially inspired violence. Too much blood has already been spilled, too many families destroyed, too many wills broken. The time for healing is now.
President, Woman’s National Democratic Club