Last week the Chauvin verdict was announced. And we at BlackRoots Alliance have been taking the time to process what this moment means to us. George Floyd was a father, brother, family man, and beloved community member. His brother, Philonise, described his sibling during his testimony as “a leader to us in the household, he would always make sure we had our clothes for school, make sure we would get to school on time...he just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better." This was the human being that former Minneapolis Police Department officer, Derek Chauvin, brutally murdered in front of a terrified and pleading crowd. He kneeled on George’s neck and back for eight minutes and 46 seconds. His last words consisted of begging for his life and calling to his deceased mother, Larcenia, who passed two years prior. According to Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiologist based here in Chicago, George died from cardiopulmonary arrest caused by low oxygen levels brought on by prone restraint and positional asphyxia. The torture he must have experienced is indescribable, and no guilty verdict will ever bring him back.
So what can we do about it now? We can practice justice by loving one another, and continue to work to build a world where justice manifests as systems that do not cause harm in the first place. BlackRoots Alliance shares the bittersweet verdict of guilt for former Officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd -- recognizing that is not a perfect outcome. The reality is that most officers have not been held accountable for their murderous actions and even fewer have faced the full provisions of the law -- for every Derek Chauvin that actually does jail time, there are hundreds of Brett Hankison's. We are also compelled to note that in this disparity lies another painful truth of the criminal legal system -- jails don’t solve our problems and while we can agree that Chauvin was guilty, the system of mass incarceration also locks away innocent people and rips away humanity. There are hundreds of predominantly Black people who have been incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, like Anthony Ray Hinton or The Exonerated 5. The legacy of modern-day policing is rooted in the slave patrols that hunted our ancestors. That legacy extends into the present, as they enslave our siblings through the system of mass incarceration. One time “getting it right” does not heal the wounds from all the times the system gets it wrong. The very next day after Chavin was found guilty, another officer murdered a teenager, Ma'Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio and police rapidly positioned themselves to explain away this murder because apparently a bullet and a butter knife are the same thing. The whole idea of justice in the criminal legal system can sometimes feel like a grotesque charade.
At BlackRoots Alliance, part of our mission is to support the safety and liberation of all Black people. Liberation can only happen when we feel safe. Over the last year, we talked with hundreds of people about their worldview related to public safety. Many brought up the need to feel safe from crime, and many others brought up the need to feel safe from the police. The bottom line is time and time again, we have had to mourn for our fallen siblings from both crime and from police brutality. So many of us are tired of living constant cycles of grief and trauma, where no outcome soothes our broken hearts. While many feel that police do not keep us safe, what is also true is that the disparate impact of economic, housing, and educational policies also threatens our safety and keeps us from being able to thrive. As a complex, and nuanced community, we can feel the sting from both of these pains and recognize that at the root of both is a calling to create a system that keeps everyone safe and provides for all of their basic human needs.
This country’s law enforcement exists on a foundation of racism and oppression. We’re calling for a complete reimagining of all systems and relationships to safety. Black communities deserve indemnity from economic and psychological terrorism that connects the issue of police and crime. We are requiring that our communities are the decision-makers when it comes to identifying safety for themselves. BlackRoots Alliance is committed to wrestling with all of the mixed feelings and ideas related to policing and crime, and we welcome you to join our conversation and get involved to shape a new world built on true justice, which as Dr. Cornel West said, is what love looks like in public.