It never ceases to amaze me how a country that celebrates its “exceptionalism” with such sickening fervor continues each year to honor Major League Baseball’s “allowing” an African American to participate in its endeavors after 78 years of existence. The observance of Jackie Robinson Day, this late-arriving moment of racial enlightenment in April of 1947, is a pathetical solemn reminder of our incredibly low bar of enthusiasm for racial-equality progress; especially when considering how deeply engrained systemic racism was/is in our national construct. This level of disgust revisited me this week when the guilty verdict came in on all three counts against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Some would like to see this as a sign that we have turned the corner on 1) Unchecked police violence against our citizenry, especially our Black citizens or 2) The way our cities and states handle murderous police officers in its wake. But joyous singing in the streets does not change the fact that this outcome is a mere anomaly in a wider issue. To wit: Less than twelve hours after the Chauvin verdict a Black man was shot dead by a cop in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The city has still not released the body-cam footage. Outrage ensued. Protests began. Change non-existent.
We have a loooooonnnnnngggg way to go.
Let’s concentrate on the Chauvin case.
A cop, in broad daylight, and on camera, kneels on a man’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. That man, as we all know by now, was George Floyd, perhaps the most famous civil rights martyr since Martin Luther King (and man, there have been an alarming amount of those). Floyd begged for his life on this recording. He repeatedly shouted that he could not breathe, as did Eric Garner in a 2014 Staten Island, New York incident in which he was murdered in broad daylight on camera. Floyd, like Garner, predictably died from not breathing. This time, once again, it took nearly ten minutes. I’m no doctor or prosecutor, but I would think without any other evidence or whatever the poor bastards hired to defend this thug had to cook up to “excuse” it, if someone is doing something this violent to another person for nearly ten minutes, there is a very good chance the perpetrator is working towards killing him. This is as cold-blooded and open-and-shut case as you can get, irrespective of race or civic duty. This was murder.
This legal slam-dunk even forced several fellow officers to turn on Chauvin and do what has been impossible in police circles – officers acting as witnesses to prosecute police crime. Sadly, this was lauded as some kind of heroic act. When in reality it was yet another anomaly in a case jammed with them. Is this going to show cracks in the Silent Blue Wall? Will this change the “closing of ranks,” union blowback, or reduce the stupid Pro-Police No Matter What Crimes They Commit or the usual political intransigence we have seen forever?
I argue no to all those questions – a very confident no.
Granted, the aforementioned Garner case only resulted in the sacking of his murderer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo. But despite prior issues of racism, Pantaleo was the subject of two civil rights lawsuits in 2013 where plaintiffs accused him of falsely arresting and abusing them, including one in which he and other officers allegedly ordered two Black men to strip naked on the street for a search, he saw no jail time for Garner’s death. In fact, he was never indicted. So, if we lower the bar to a spectacular limbo-like level, then, sure, Chauvin actually going to jail for killing a Black man is progress.
Should we break out into a chorus of “God Bless America” or just throw up?
The Chauvin case proves that you need overwhelming, damning, sure-shot evidence that a cop murdered a citizen. What if that young woman with the smart phone doesn’t show up? Anomaly. No other cop on the scene stopped it. They had ten fucking minutes to do it. A lot had to work out for justice. Anomaly. Sometimes it doesn’t. Most times.
A cop shooting someone in the heat of the moment or not making a correct decision with his weapon or even these repeated shootings of unarmed Black men in the back, are not going to shift in the other direction because of the Chauvin verdict. Police and the echo-chamber defense of “any and all” police activity will argue that cops need to have a wider spectrum of violent retribution in order to do their jobs correctly. And if we push too hard against all this racial profiling and murdering then they might not want to be cops.
For instance, in what can only be deciphered as a publicity stunt to cull the goon vote, Amanda Chase, a GOP candidate for Virginia governor, told reporters upon hearing the Chauvin news, “Today’s verdict makes me sick. I am so concerned about our law enforcement right now, quitting. And you should be, too.”
But this has always specious claptrap, which keeps cities and states from weeding out crappy and racist police, of which there are way too many. And the idea that critiquing this is somehow anti-police is another childish retort to common sense. Not liking some foods does not make you an enemy of food.
Sure, celebrating the Chauvin guilty verdict seems like the thing to do, but now what?
Until guilty verdicts for murdering cops becomes the norm, this is just a blip in our systemic issues radar.
And, let’s face it, if this is what we’re congratulating ourselves on – convicting a guy for choking a man for ten minutes on tape – then I’m not even sure anyone has even begun lifting the damn bar.