Sarah Grace Goolden
George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin May 25, 2020. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as the Black man begged for his life, repeatedly informing him he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was being detained over a counterfeit $20 bill.
The death of George Floyd sparked outrage in America and all over the world. Millions gathered in every city to protest police brutality, calling for not just the termination of Chauvin but also legal accountability. The Black Lives Matter movement did not begin in 2020 but it did gain traction during this time.
On April 20, 2021, almost a full year after the incident, Chauvin was found guilty on all charges, which include second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
For those that have spent years begging for change, this verdict felt like a sigh of relief. While it is impossible to say whether the protests had any influence over the outcome, I believe the work done throughout the summer of 2020 has changed the world for the better.
It is important to remember, though, there is a difference between accountability and justice. The decision to charge Chauvin is keeping police officers accountable for their violence and discrimination. Justice would be changing the system altogether.
Chauvin is not alone in abusing his powers to endanger and harm people of color. Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March 2020. NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold until he died in July 2014. Countless Black individuals report harassment and violence at the hands of law enforcement. Police have killed 319 people this year, a year which we are not even halfway through. I will point out that these are the incidents we are aware of, thanks to technology and witnesses. It is probable there are many other cases in which the public was not privy to, both before cell phones and in secluded areas.
I believe we should be celebrating the correct decision of the legal system but I do not believe we should be praising them. Charging Chauvin on all counts was the right thing to do. Anything else would have been wrong. I do not believe our justice system needs to be applauded for seeking justice; that is its function.
I do believe, however, this is a time for a small pocket of joy and satisfaction. The people have worked hard, from organizing protests and marches to raising awareness and funds for Floyd’s family. The effort to secure this decision was tireless by the American people, particularly people of color, in which this was also mentally and emotionally taxing. Those that fought and worked to see this day deserve a pat on the back and more importantly, they deserve a break. Unfortunately, I do not foresee that break occurring.
If these last two years have taught us anything, it is that bad things happen to good people. We have mourned the deaths of too many Black folks at the hands of law enforcement. Derek Chauvin’s verdict is hopefully the precedent to all similar cases in the future but it is only a bandaid on a bullet wound.
If all our effort is spent seeking accountability for the murders perpetrated by police, we will continue to have a lot of incarcerated officers but we will also continue to have a lot of murdered people. The real solution lies in the training and funding of police officers themselves.
The call to defund police officers has been echoed throughout the last couple of years but what does it really mean? It is an effort to reallocate funds from the police department to other government agencies. An example would be the reaction to nonviolent situations. If money is funneled towards professionals who are more capable of handling these events, untrained and brash police officers will not be rushing into a scene that they are not skilled to take on.
Another solution being suggested is the idea of abolishing the police. Hand-made signs at protests have pushed for this route. What does it mean to abolish the police? If a world without police sounds scary to you, look at it this way: A world with anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Muslim and anti-queer figures who use murder as a means of suppression is scary to minorities. Why keep watering a tree with rotten fruit? Abolishing the police calls for divvying up responsibilities to the extent that police are not even necessary. This is similar reasoning to defunding the police but calls for the actual extermination of the organization. Christy Lopez, a law professor at Georgetown University, says “We also see that much of what police do could probably be done better or more cost-effectively if done by somebody else: everything from taking accident reports to responding to persons who are homeless or in mental health crisis.”
If this sounds unrealistic to you, take a look at Camden, New Jersey, which disbanded its police force in 2021. The city, which once was overrun with crime and riots, now boasts of the peaceful effects of abolishing their law enforcement.
The trial of George Floyd’s murderer is a step in the right direction but now is not the time to pause or stop. In order to cement real change, we have to keep demanding and fighting for the people of color in this country. If we stop now, I fear we will fall back into the same habit of pushing police brutality under the rug.