(CNN) — The images and audio clips of the trial against Derek Chauvin will remain in people’s memories for years. However, a heartbreaking image stands out from the rest.
It was the nonchalant look in Chauvin’s eyes on May 25, 2020, when he took George Floyd’s life. This was as chilling as his knee on Floyd’s neck and what he stands for could spell the greatest challenge for the police reforms to come.
That look was captured in what the prosecution dryly called “Exhibit 17”. It shows Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of three counts of Floyd’s death, staring into a crowd of onlookers as he pounced on an unconscious Floyd who is handcuffed and immobilized facing the pavement.
The expression on Chauvin’s face is one of boredom and disinterest. His sunglasses are on his head and his hands rest in his pocket. He doesn’t seem to notice Floyd at all. The only flicker of emotion on his face is his annoyance at the crowd that has gathered to plead for Floyd’s life.
That will be one of the defining images of our age because it tells a story about racism that a lot of people don’t want to hear.
When we talk about racism we often focus on impressive acts of cruelty. The macabre photo of Emmett Till’s face in an open casket. The lynching postcards that some white Americans used to send each other. The annoyed faces of white students surrounding a young black woman trying to get into an Arkansas high school.
But the disinterested look on Chauvin’s face is a reminder that indifference – not just hatred – is a fundamental part of how racism works.
Wiesel said that for the indifferent person “his neighbor does not matter… His hidden or even visible anguish is not of interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction ”.
Why Indifference Can Be More Harmful Than Hate
There is a peculiar pain in being ignored, in not even being seen. Most black people have experienced this. So if you talk about racism with some in careless moments you will hear something strange.
To some they find it easier to cope with the accumulated hatred of racists compared to whites who don’t even see them. At least racists acknowledge that they exist, they see them, even if their vision is clouded with hatred.
Not being seen is another, more insidious form of racism that can be infuriating. Perhaps that is why one of the best novels about racism is by a black author entitled “The invisible man”.
And that is why it is no accident that it was white indifference — not hatred — that seemed to enrage plus the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
King did not write his epic “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963 in response to the heinous actions of white segregationists. He directed it to a group of white moderates who thought they were indifferent to the suffering of segregated blacks and who were “more dedicated to order than justice.”
Racism needs indifference like a plant needs water and sunlight.
White indifference Is the reason why slavery and Jim Crow lasted so long.
The indifference of whites Towards police brutality is the reason so many black men continue to die as Floyd does.
White indifference is the reason why it’s harder to vote for blacks and brunettes, than for whites in some states.
It is the indifference of the whites that allows so many black and brown students go to racially segregated public schools with fewer resources. It is the indifference of whites that allows so many in the medical profession to believe that blacks don’t feel pain like everyone else.
Indifference renders the pain of blacks invisible, just as it did with Floyd.
Violent acts of white racism make headlines, but the most pervasive forms of racism take hold when white judges, police officers, politicians and ordinary people look away to avoid seeing what is happening in front of their faces.
Prosecutors used Chauvin’s nonchalance against him
It is difficult to dramatize white indifference. Indifference photos don’t go viral.
But then Chauvin arrived. At his trial, prosecutors acknowledged that it was his indifference, not just his cruelty, that largely led to Floyd’s death.
They rigorously focused on Chauvin’s body language during his arrest of Floyd and the lack of concern on his face when he pinned Floyd to the ground. Jurors were told that Chauvin showed “indifference”To Floyd’s pleas for help. They said Chauvin and other officers at the scene talked about the smell of Floyd’s feet and nonchalantly they picked up stones from the tire of a vehicle while Floyd died in front of them.
Prosecutors built a case in which they forced the jury to view Floyd as a human being and not as an abstraction.
“There was no superhuman strength that day. There was no superhuman strength because there is no such thing as a superhuman ”, said prosecutor Steve Schleicher in his closing arguments. “… Just a human, just a man lying on the pavement being pushed, crying desperately. A grown man crying for his mother ”.
However, there was a moment when Chauvin’s gaze of indifference broke.
He came to the end of his trial when the judge read the guilty verdict. Panicked, Chauvin’s eyes moved. They widened in disbelief, and perhaps in that moment, as he was handcuffed and taken away, he could glimpse the terror that so many black and brown men have felt.
Why this indifference poses a challenge for the future
As activists use the momentum of the Floyd verdict to push for more police reform, this wall of indifference may be their biggest challenge. There are many complicated proposals to reform the police: a federal ban on strangulations and search warrants without warning, challenging the authorities’ immunity from civil lawsuits, and stopping the militarization of local police.
However, much of the progress in police reform will come down to the following: Will enough legislators and judges see black and brown people who are being brutalized by the judicial system as human beings or will some continue to see them as thugs, predators or superhumans? ?
History suggests this will be a great challenge because resistance to white indifference is often underestimated. His strength is in his anonymity – he does not usually draw attention to himself and his perpetrators are often not aware that they see certain people as “the other”.
On your book “Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle Between Blacks and Whites”, el psicólogo Paul L. Wachtel wrote that what is often called racism can be more accurately described as indifference.
“Perhaps no other feature of white attitudes … is so cumulatively responsible for the pain and deprivation experienced by our nation’s black minority at this point in history as indifference,” he wrote. “And at the same time, perhaps no feature is so misunderstood or overlooked.”
Maybe the Test 17 Chauvin’s trial change that.
Many people can’t muster the strength to watch the entire Floyd video. It’s too painful, but a lot of people saw that image of Chauvin looking bored as the life of a black man faded beneath him.
As activists push for more change in the wake of the verdict, Chauvin’s face could serve as a sober reminder.
Indifference – not hatred – may be the biggest obstacle to police reform.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism