People like joking about how 4/20 is a marijuana-lovers day-long blaze-up Holiday (inspired by a time high schoolers smoked weed, no less), but 4/20/2021 will be remembered for something else. It is the date a high-profile racially charged case involving a White police officer ended with an overwhelming verdict of guilty.
I am not a historian nor a legal scholar, so I can’t speak to how many times this has happened before. I genuinely don’t know that. But, I can say that this is the first time, in my memory, that it was so strongly positioned in public awareness and this happened. I honestly didn’t think Derek Chauvin would be found guilty on all charges, and I went through a wave of emotions (as did many others) once I saw the jury’s decision come down from the judge.
I Have Been Trained to Expect Something Else
This isn’t the first time there was video footage provided in a scenario involving a non-Black police officer “doing their job” in an instance of clear overreach and breach of protocol when dealing with a Black suspect. This isn’t the first time that a non-Black police officer was recorded taking the life of a Black suspect. This isn’t the first time that the words “I can’t breathe” had been uttered on camera as a person was killed by a non-Black police officer (PS: I still haven’t watched the original video of George Floyd’s death and I doubt that I ever will).
This isn’t the first time that a non-Black police officer has taken a Black Suspect’s life for what just didn’t seem like a crime where a death sentence would’ve been an option on the table:
Laying in bed after someone else in the house defended your home amidst the confusion of a botched raid (Breonna Taylor)
There are more situations than the ones bulleted above, but those three quickly come to mind as I write this.
In each of those cases you had communities shouting out with calls of murder and police overreach. There was video, witness statements, admitted breaches of procedure, etc. — but there was also the factor that these officers were making split second decisions in highly volatile situations. Ok.
And in each of those cases I’m fairly confident that whatever came down as retribution from our justice system didn’t feel like an equivalent exchange at all for what had taken place… All because officers were doing these things in the line of doing their jobs.
Say what you will, but the fact that Breonna Taylor’s shooter was put on trial for objectively taking her life, and then only found guilty of objectively endangering her neighbors by haphazardly shooting into her place is insulting. Seriously. As a human being – that has always pissed me off. An innocent woman died in her home. In her bed. All because cops didn’t have their act together while executing a misinformed warrant. She died. And the system was more concerned with her neighbors (who are alive by the way) and their walls. Ok. I will just say that it speaks volumes that after everything was said and done, a judge dismissed charges against her boyfriend who actually fired shots at police officers in that situation.
Anyway – I digress.
What I’m saying here is that cops end Black Lives in messed-up situations all the time in ways that seem excessive, and there has historically never been any real price paid during the cases that end up getting national attention (in recent memory).
If an officer choked out a White man who was well-liked in his community in front of witnesses on camera until he died of suffocation and it got national attention… I feel like that cop would go to jail.
If an officer shot and killed a little White boy because he was at a park playing with a toy gun and it got national attention… I feel like that cop would go to jail.
If a group of officers busted into a White couple’s residence and then shot and killed an innocent White woman who was laying in her bed confused by what was happening and it got national attention… I feel like those cops would go to jail.
But that doesn’t happen when the victim in the scenario is Black. Not for cases that the entire country is watching. That just doesn’t happen — and you can take that all the way back to Rodney King.
So, yeah… I’ve been trained to expect that cops who kill Black People walk away with their freedom or relatively light sentencing — especially if the cop is White, and I was shocked when I saw the jury’s decision come through for Derek Chauvin. It really makes me wonder what changed because this isn’t the first time there’s been a video.
And I hate to say it, but I feel like had there not been a prior summer of protests, riots, and destruction of public property before this case — Derek Chauvin would’ve gotten manslaughter at the worst, and a slap on the wrist during his sentencing (compared to the fact that he’d just ended a life in front of a dozen witnesses).
It shouldn’t take all of that. Justice for one man’s life in this scenario through our criminal justice system shouldn’t require months of the righteous anger and outpouring of sorrow from a huge portion of society.
That video will anger some, but a lot of Black People will laugh at it and fully understand what makes it funny and “not funny” at the same time.
The Potential for Two New Narratives
The reason I was moved by this verdict is that I was accustomed to the narrative I messily described to you in the section above. My initial reaction on Facebook was “Wow.” My expectations in discussions with my friends, right before the verdict was rendered, was that Chauvin was about to get away with murder.
The reality of Chauvin’s trial spat in the face of those expectations and opened the door to a seemingly original future narrative when it comes to policing Black Lives: Accountability.
You will see the word accountability tossed around a lot in relation to this case and the end result of this trial because many Black People have felt that cops aren’t held accountable in situations like this since they’re “just doing their jobs.” I won’t get into the message it sends to a community when “doing your job” is conflated (yeah, I said it) with “killing Black men and women for small crimes (or worse, when they’re innocent)” – but I’ll mention it in passing and let it marinate for some of you.
It isn’t a cop’s job to execute criminals on the streets. I repeat: It isn’t a cop’s job to execute criminals on the streets.
The second narrative that this possibly opens the door up to is Black People feeling safe around police officers.
I won’t lie to you, I don’t feel safe when I’m around cops. I have never committed a crime a day in my life beyond speeding in a car (for which I have been ticketed in the past). I don’t know what it is, but I just get a little uncomfortable in the presence of a lot of cops… There’s something wrong with me NOT feeling more secured in that situation. Put me around a group of firemen, soldiers, EMTs, etc. — I feel totally fine. Put me around a bunch of cops… I get nervous. I can’t tell you why.
But… Maybe seeing things like cops not being able to take Black Lives with impunity during nationally televised trials might do something to ease my nervousness because I won’t feel like they could just do whatever they want with my existence and get away with it. PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT saying that is the reality of the world, I am merely expressing what it feels like in my experience. That is all.
There have already been a number of Black Lives taken by police officers after this historic moment in the Chauvin Trial (one literally during the reading of the verdict), but I have opinions about those (which may surprise and/or anger some given my past views) that I won’t share here in this post talking about this particular trial.
What this case will mean for history? I don’t know. What precedent this sets in future cases like this (because there will be more)? I don’t know.
I just know that I haven’t felt this emotionally invested in a verdict since George Zimmerman was found not guilty in his unnecessary stalking and murder of Trayvon Martin. I remember I cried that day. And even though I didn’t watch the Chauvin Trial — I was more than interested in its outcome. And seeing justice be served in this situation lifted a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t cry this time, but my heart jumped for joy and I rode that high all week.
I want people to understand that before this verdict was read, I basically told my manager that I might need to take the next day off if Chauvin was found not guilty (and God bless him, he totally empathized and understood that). I want people to realize that a non-Black friend told me that the President of the United States was going to make a statement about the outcome of the trial, and my response was, “I don’t care about what he has to say about this. Like — I really don’t. This is legit one of those moments I don’t want to hear from a White person. Like… at all. This moment isn’t for them.” That was me at the moment right after the guilty verdicts were read.
I am still processing this. This moment still feels huge and spine-tingling to me. It does for a lot of people. And although I know this post was everywhere — THAT (everything that I vomited into words above) is why this matters.