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Derek Chauvin is guilty. What about the system that created him?
How many bad apples need to fall before we start to question the tree?
On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. It took 9 minutes and 29 seconds of agonizing video—Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times—to secure the verdict. Chauvin’s disregard for Floyd’s life was so heinous, so barbaric that it was impossible to deny.
It takes a particular kind of dehumanization to kill someone like that. Even then, the outcome of the trial was never certain. Consider the odds that the prosecutors were up against: Police murder over 1000 people a year. The victims are disproportionately likely to be Black. Only 1-2% of the killers are ever prosecuted. And since 2005 only seven have ever been convicted.
Just a few minutes before Judge Peter A. Cahill read out the historic verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin, shots rang out of a policeman’s gun in Columbus, Ohio. Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black child, was killed.
According to her family, Ma’Khia Bryant called the police after she was threatened by a group of teens. In self-defense, she wielded a knife. Rather than de-escalate the fight, the responding officer shot her four times.
Columbus officials are already trying to spin the story. With unprecedented speed, they released body cam footage they claim should exonerate the officer. It shows Ma’Khia with a knife. It’s devastating that this bears repeating so soon after the release of footage showing Adam Toledo’s murder, but a weapon doesn’t excuse police from killing a child. It also raises a question: since when did breaking up a fight between teen girls—knife or no knife—require four gunshots?
This was Columbus’s interim police chief after the murder: "This is a tragic incident for all involved, but especially for the family of the female.” Not the girl. Not even the young woman. The female. People don’t usually refer to other people that way. Unless they don’t see them as human at all.
All of this should remind us that Derek Chauvin wasn’t a bad apple. He was the logical fruit of a corrupted tree.
Because of the work of activists and organizers in the wake of Floyd’s murder, America has started to look differently upon America’s law enforcement enterprise. But the fact that Chauvin’s verdict is the high-water mark for accountability following police murder should remind us that we have yet to achieve any true justice.
In that respect, the Chauvin verdict cannot be the end of America’s reckoning with systemic racism and police brutality—it must be the beginning. Derek Chauvin was found guilty for his murder of George Floyd. But are we, as a country, willing to prosecute the criminal legal system that recruited him, trained him, and taught him to dehumanize? Until then, we are mistaking holding one man accountable for bringing a whole system to justice.