OPINION: The trial of George Floyd: There are no broken justice systems
The title of this piece is, “The trial of George Floyd” but really, it was never his trial.
Floyd is not the one who had to face a jury, he was not the police officer who killed an innocent man while said man’s last words were crying out for his mother while gasping for air and saying: I can’t breathe.
It is not the trial of George Floyd. It is the trial and always has been the trial of Derek Chauvin. But you’re probably not well acquainted with that name, or that face. Chauvin is an invisible criminal. So, the title “The trial of George Floyd” is intentional, because you should know his name, even though he never got to tell his story, even though he never took the stand.
Often, in fact, much too often, an event takes place that is so visceral, so traumatic and so inhumane that we have to take pause. We have to step back from ourselves and the society we live in, the world we live in, and ask ourselves: What has become of us? Who are we? Why must we change and how do we realign what we stand for? Do we really stand for anything? It’s a disturbing process, and it should be, and my only hope is that every single one of us has the courage to do these things because they are necessary.
We have to do them to remind ourselves not only of who we are, but of the lives of others - their identities, their lives, their stolen futures, their brothers, sisters, mothers, friends and partners. The loss. They are not just hashtags or movements, they are more than protests. They are bodies missed and loves lost. And they are the symbols and reminders of our humanity, or the gaps in our humanity, that can stay the same or be changed in the same way that the lives of those who are left behind change forever.
Ironically, we live in an age where the virality of a video and the spread of a hashtag are just the things we need to remind us of the heavy weight on human life, as was the case last May when the video of Floyd being killed went viral. The footage shows in clear view, Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck. The police officer pressed down so hard and with so little regard that the innocent man died in the street after nine minutes and 29 seconds of inhumane torture accompanied by the muffled cries of begging to live.
Earlier this week in a Minneapolis courtroom, a judge peeled open a yellow envelope, in it, Chauvin’s verdict. A nation waited with bated breath, pun unintended, after spending almost a year rising up against the police, their freedom to abuse, their funding and the continuation and perpetuation of systemic racism by state structures which are supposed to fight against the very same.
After centuries of injustice and the undervalued and disposable black body, killing after killing, failed verdict after failed verdict, and the disappointing US criminal justice system that would rather defend the white supremacy of the police force than protect and defend the innocent, morale was low.
Chauvin was found guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The announcement of the verdict was over in less than nine minutes and 29 seconds. And the judge thanked the jury for what he called “heavy-duty service”.
“Heavy-duty service”? The implication of this statement is that the jury were strong enough and resilient enough to take on the difficult work of convicting a man whose guilt should have been decided long before the trial. There was no innocence here. The proof was already out there. There could be no argument made that a single person in that jury didn’t watch that man die. Why call basic humanity, basic justice “heavy-duty service”? when in fact it is the very least they were tasked to do?
Earlier this week I read an opinion piece (from where I can’t now recall) that said the pro-cop strategy is to remind communities that in cases like these, it is not the entire system that’s on trial, it’s one guy. Untrue. My skin crawled with anger and hatred and I wanted to watch the world burn. Because really, the question is not the culpable man, it is the culpable system.
The facts are simple. Black lives can be extinguished without compassion or thought, and in the case of Floyd and so many others, with no intervention. We stand. We watch. We say something afterwards, maybe. The issue isn’t one person, it’s the entire system. It is systemic racism. And it is true in the US as much as it is true here in South Africa.
Justice is not conviction. Sure, wins should be celebrated, I guess. One step forward and all that. But corrective action is the afterthought of justice. Justice is and should be first and foremost. Justice is served before convictions, before crimes and before countless dead bodies had to serve as proof that righteousness is in order and it’s time to dish it out. Justice is showing compassion, empathy and understanding before acts of hostility and inhumane crimes. Justice is treating people like people, for black people to be treated as people.
Period. Without stereotype. Without preconceived notions. And without the assumption that they are bred with generational terrorism in their genetics, when in fact it is the opposite.
BlackLivesMatter is the work of black people who have been working and continue to work to be seen as humans. Period. Where is the white work?
Chauvin’s verdict isn’t the correction of a system. It isn’t justice served. Sure, it’s progress. But in the words of Benjamin O’Keefe, who said it better than I ever could, “Derek Chauvin is not the example of a broken system. He is the example of a system working exactly as intended”.
These structures are not mistakes. They are not mistakes in our country. And they are not mistakes elsewhere in the world. They are the result of built systems designed to work and continue working exactly as they should. And we don’t need a white man killing a black body and then being sentenced almost a year later to remind us of that.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.