By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Apr 23, 2021)
The guilty-on-all-counts verdict delivered last Tuesday against Derik Chauvin, the racist murderer of George Floyd, has brought joy to the hearts of millions of people around the world. Pundits have shamelessly proclaimed that the U.S. system of justice has prevailed. Don’t believe their lies. The guilty verdict is not proof that the system worked. The verdict proves that the system knows when to protect and preserve itself.
The guilty verdict was an indictment of the U.S. system of injustice.
The glare of the entire world, the magnificent anti-racist, anti-white supremacist protests that rocked the United States through the summer of 2020, as well as the deep fear of the moneyed class that a not guilty verdict will not only result in an international shaming of the United States, but the potential for untold protest, civil disobedience and the attendant loss in life and property is what squeezed out this guilty verdict.
This verdict took the glare of live footage of the lynching, and most importantly, a breach in the blue wall of silence which allowed top police brass and other top city and state officials taking the stand in a desperate effort to throw Chauvin to the angry, baying masses as a full-body sacrifice.
If you think otherwise, you are yet to understand the inner workings of the U.S. Just-us system. Consider this fact: minutes before the Chauvin guilty verdict, police in Ohio senselessly and unashamedly murdered a young black girl. His defence will be that it was a split-second decision intended to save the life of another. A warning shot could have been the decider without the loss of life and the continued pain and suffering in Black and Brown communities across the United States. But who cares about Black pain?
Chris Cuomo, the CCN host, echoed what Black activists and mourning families across the United States have been saying forever. White America will only understand the horror of these almost daily traumatic experiences on Black people when police routinely kill young white children. Fortunately for white families, this will never happen because the system is not set up that way.
A brief history will remind us that the racist U.S. justice system bends, but it never breaks. In 1991, Rodney King was brutally assaulted by Los Angeles police. His torturers were found not guilty. Eleanor Bumpers, a 67-year-old grandmother, was brutally murdered in her own home by a racist police officer.
Indicted and tried for second-degree murder, officer Stephen Sullivan was found not guilty. Remember Trayvon Martin! Philando Castile! There are countless others. Their killers were found not guilty.
Police officers act with a high degree of impunity. They know their crimes against Black and Hispanic youth or against people who reside in poor communities will rarely if ever, be prosecuted. And if they ever come to trial, they are more than confident of an acquittal.
But ever so often, the system of racist injustice is compelled to correct itself as if to convince the world that there is some semblance of justice in its inner workings. And so it offers up bodies. In 1997, it offered up Justin Volpe, the racist cop who brutally tortured Abner Louima and, in the process, raped him with a mop handle. He was sentenced to 30 years for that crime. And now there is Chauvin. We have to wait eight weeks to know whether he will adequately be punished for the brutal murder of George Floyd.
This is the context in which we need to view the conviction of Chauvin. One conviction does not change the system. As one perceptive observer noted, “Were we not playing for such high stakes with the world’s cameras sharply focused on the US justice system, Chauvin would have walked free.’
Therefore, while Black people breathe just a little easier after the Chauvin verdict, they will make a fatal error to drop their guard. No one who truly understands the workings of the system could celebrate the conviction of Chauvin. Even though George Floyd was murdered in plain view and there was such overwhelming evidence against his killer, there was still a sense of collective doubt about whether he would be found guilty.
The radical truth is that Derek Chauvin was not convicted; he was sacrificed. Sacrificed by a system that is the real culprit, a system that is desperate to deflect the world’s attention and focus from its inner workings.
How many innocent black and Hispanic people were murdered by the police before the advent of new technology and the ubiquitous camera? How many more Eric Garner’s, Ahmaud Arberry’s, Michael Brown’s and Tamir Rice’s were there before the advent of YouTube?
Let’s be clear. Derek Chauvin is not the problem. The real problem is the racist system that devalues black lives and does not pursue the perpetrators who take them. The problem is a racist system that maintains African-Americans as second class citizens who are only partially integrated into society.
The problem is the racist media perpetuating racist stereotypes and tropes that have reduced the black reality to a caricature of criminality, violence and drugs – thus creating fear and paranoia amongst white Americans. The problem is a dominant society that has buried its head in the sand, refused to acknowledge that its system is broken and continues to admire its own distorted reflection in the shattered mirror that is the United States of America.
The real problem is a system that has historically placed a low commodity and social value on black lives. A casual look at U.S. reality lays bare the fact that the investigation and media reporting into the murder of a Black person are totally different to that of a White — thus, the United States, from its earliest beginnings, is not a society of equals. The police know this, and that’s why they enter Black and Brown neighbourhoods as an occupation force. This reality also explains why African Americans and Hispanics are seen and treated as the enemy to be destroyed.
We can’t tinker with this system of injustice. Real change will only come when the system of white supremacy and racism is dismantled, and an equitable justice system based on the humanity of each person is built up in its place. Until then the U.S. will be found guilty on all counts.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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