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Is there justice in the US?

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DEREK CHAUVIN, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was recently convicted of second degree and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter after killing George Floyd in May last year.

Floyd, a 46-year-old blackman, was killed on May 25 2020.

His death prompted widespread protests which called for an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

A panel of jurors found Chauvin guilty on all three charges in one of the most closely watched criminal trials in recent memory.

Americans were weary as they awaited the verdict that took the jury about 10 hours and 20 minutes to reach a decision.

There were fears that an ‘unfavourable’ verdict would lead to more unrest like what happened last year.

The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire while thousands of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers were brought in ahead of the verdict. 

As Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict confirming that the jury had found Chauvin guilty on all counts, cheers and car honking could be heard outside the Hennepin County Courthouse.

His bail was immediately revoked while he was led away in handcuffs.

Chauvin’s sentencing is scheduled for eight weeks from now.

He could be sent to prison for decades.

The Jury

The jury was made up of seven women and five men.

Six jurors were white, four were black with two identified as multiracial. 

Jurors were sequestered and their whereabouts kept secret.

Much ado about nothing

Many are calling Chauvin’s conviction a watershed moment as 99 percent of police killings end up without criminal charges against an officer.

Chauvin’s fellow officers also testified against him.

However, is Chauvin’s verdict worth celebrating?

For a moment, blacks were surprised, relieved and tentatively hopeful, but again, they had waited 331 days for a semblance of justice which, when served, left them empty. 

And they have every reason to feel empty.

Moments before Chauvin’s verdict was announced, yet another black person, this time, a black teen, Ma’Khia Bryant, had been killed by the police.

Bryant, a 16-year-old, was shot by officer Nicholas Reardon in Columbus, Ohio, at 4:44pm on April 20 2021.

That is not all.

Since Chauvin’s trial began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement agencies in the US, with black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead.  

That is an average of three people a day.

Just outside Minneapolis, where closing arguments in Chauvin’s trial began, a 20-year-old Daunte Wright was fatally shot at a traffic stop by an officer, Kim Potter, now charged with manslaughter.

Four days later, a police-worn body camera video of a Chicago officer shooting Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old, was made public. It shows Toledo fleeing with a gun but then raising his hands before he was shot early on March 29, hours before the attorneys prosecuting Floyd’s murder opened their case.

Anthony Thompson Junior, a 17-year-old was shot in a high school bathroom by officers responding to a report of a student with a gun. 

During a scuffle with officers in the restroom, the student’s gun went off and the officers fired twice.

Police have killed 319 people in 2021, according to Mapping Political Violence (MPV), a research and advocacy organisation whose tally includes deaths, like Floyd’s, that did not involve a gun.

The organisation says until April 4, there were only three days where police did not kill someone.

At least, since 2013, about 1 100 people a year have been killed by law enforcement agencies, according to MPV, although that number dipped during 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Whose justice?

US Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the legal system prevailed, but far more needs to be done.

“This verdict is a reflection of how our legal system is supposed to work: an individual guilty of a horrific crime is being held accountable for his actions. But this verdict did not, and will not, fix what is so deeply broken in that system,” Booker said.

“Accountability for the officer who murdered George Floyd is important and it is necessary. 

But it is far from enough. 

We must also hold the system that allowed it to happen accountable. 

What are we going to do, as a country, to prevent this from happening again and again and again and again?”

But again, this leaves one with more questions than answers.

Would there be justice for Floyd if not for a grotesque nine-and-a-half minutes of video showing a remorseless Chauvin killing Floyd? 

Would that verdict have been the same, if not for non-stop mass protests?

Is Chauvin a sacrificial lamb being led to slaughter in order to save a current system that has killed three people every day, largely blacks, during the Chauvin trial?

Remember, earlier in the day before the verdict was passed, President Joe Biden weighed in by saying he believes the case against Chauvin is ‘overwhelming’.

Of course, this is not to dampen the excitement of longtime activists or those who newly discovered activism after Floyd’s murder, who have kept police reform and transformation at the forefront of people’s minds.

It is just that one cannot help but relive the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant, in 1999, by four New York City police officers, who were all acquitted of the charges a year later. 

How about Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun and a police officer jumped out, shot him immediately but there were no charges?

About two percent of police officers are ever convicted of killing someone, let alone killing somebody black.

It is not only in the US.

Blacks in the UK have also been subjected to the injustice and indignity of UK’s political and criminal justice system.

Black people make up three percent of the British population, but eight percent of all deaths in police custody and since 1969, only one police officer has been convicted.

They almost always receive a suspended sentence.

The world watched as police officers were suspended for taking selfies with the dead bodies of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were found in a Wembley park.

Not to forget the mother of Richard Okorogheye, the 19-year-old who went missing and was later found dead. 

The mother was told by the police: “If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find him for you?”

That is why one is convinced that Chauvin’s conviction is nothing to write home about.

George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

US Vice-President Kamala Harris said the guilty verdict against Chauvin is ‘but a piece of’ policing and criminal justice reform.

Said Harris on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’: “There is no question that we’ve got to put an end to these moments where the public questions whether there’s going to be accountability; questions whether there’s going to be the kind of fairness that we should all expect and deserve in all of our lives and in particular as it relates to people of colour.

This verdict is but a piece of it, and it will not heal the pain that existed for generations among people who have experienced and first-hand witnessed what now a broader public is seeing because of smartphones and the ubiquity of our ability to videotape in real-time what is happening in front of our faces.

And that’s why Congress needs to act, and that’s why they should pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

I really do hope that the US Senate will take it on and have the courage to take it on.”

The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, which would ban the use of neck restraints at the federal level, get rid of ‘qualified immunity’ for police officers and prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases.

Guided by history, this Policing Act may not pass in the Senate.

They do not have the courage to take it on.

This is the same system that failed Breonna Taylor, Charleena Lyles and Manuel Ellis, among others.

What about Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright? 

Will there be justice for them?

There is nothing about the Chauvin conviction that will make one believe it will not fail more families in the future.

Thus, the verdict is not sufficient action to heal centuries of intergenerational racial trauma caused by these extrajudicial killings.

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