OROn Tuesday afternoon, a jury confirmed what many of us knew to be true for the better part of a year: Former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin was guilty of the murder of George Floyd.
On Wednesday morning, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a Justice Department pattern or practice investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department’s General Operating Rules are illegal and unconstitutional, in violation of the rights of the citizens they control.
Both legal decisions have been hailed as major civil rights victories. Shortly after it was announced, CNN’s Van Jones called the Justice Department investigation “a big problem”; former federal civil rights attorney Jared Fishman called it “enormously significant.”
As for Chauvin’s guilty verdict, which literally made headlines around the world, George Floyd’s loved ones understandably celebrated and expressed relief at the decision, pointing to it as a hopeful sign of a potentially more just future. Darnella Frazier, the then 17-year-old heroic whose recording of Floyd’s murder by Chauvin served as critical evidence at trial and refuted the lies embedded in the initial fabricated Minneapolis Police Department murder report, wrote on Facebook: “George Floyd we did it!! justice has been done. ”Ms. Frazier spoke on behalf of many people around the world when she saw justice in the outcome.
And yet, when news of Chauvin’s conviction spread, so did a side story: 20 minutes before the guilty verdict came in Minneapolis, police in Columbus, Ohio, had shot Ma ‘dead. Khia Bryant, 16 years old. Bryant, a black girl, is at least the 65th person killed by police in the United States since the Chauvin trial began late last month; like the new york times reported that, as of last weekend, the police were killing an average of three people a day during the course of the trial.
Mariame Kaba, one of the most visionary and organizing thinkers against the industrial-police-prison complex in the United States, has often said that “Hope is a discipline”. Hope here is not synonymous with optimism, but rather an everyday practice and philosophy of life: “believe despite the evidence and see how the evidence changes.”
I am referring here to Kaba’s philosophy of hope because it is very difficult to see the news that the police are killing another child and not feel desperate. This is especially true when you think about the murder of Ms. Bryant alongside the police murder last month of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago; we are literally talking about kids be killed by the police. The constancy of police violence in this country can seem as overwhelming in its ubiquity and intractability as it is cruel and devastating in its details.
But despite that evidence, there are reasons for hope, although they are not necessarily the reasons currently making headlines. A single guilty verdict or a single justice department investigation does not by itself have the ability to overthrow and replace violently oppressive systems that are in the process of generation. I am glad that Mr. Floyd’s family can feel more peace today than before the verdict was read; but I don’t need to look any further than the 2018 supposedly “historic” and “historic” murder conviction of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of Laquan McDonald, along with the brutal murder of Adam Toledo. last month, to learn that these kinds of verdicts don’t have a solid track record of transformative potential. Meanwhile, the Justice Department launched two dozen investigations into various municipal police departments during the Obama years, none of which resulted in significant changes to the operating rules of those departments.
The true transformative hope that is found here, in my view, does not lie in the system, nor in the convictions that affirm its supposed “justice” or functionality, nor in the icy recklessness of the office of the “main police” of the nation, but on those who do the work to oppose that system altogether and work towards alternatives to it.
Much of the American media and public have questioned and criticized demands to defund police that emerged amid protests last summer. But at the heart of the argument is a logical conclusion: less money for the police and fewer police officers means a lower likelihood that adults like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and children like Ma’Khia Bryant and Adam Toledo, will be found and killed by police. And it might surprise people to learn that according to the research group Stop criminalizationThose protests have resulted in the divestment of nearly a billion dollars from police departments across the country, some of which (though sadly not enough) have been reinvested directly into communities in nourishing, non-punitive ways. In many cities across the country, community-based violence prevention teams work to reduce violent harm within communities, working beyond the boundaries of municipal police departments that not only routinely fail to prevent violence. damage, but often actively inflicting it.
What I mean here is that we must be fiercely protective of our hopes and expectations when it comes to the occasional reaches of the criminal punishment system towards individualized and particularized displays of “justice.” Minnesota state prosecutors explicitly said in their closing arguments against Derek Chauvin that police They weren’t tried here, but rather that an exceptionally bad ex-police officer was. Chauvin’s defense team responded, in part, that their client was not guilty by virtue of the fact that he was simply doing what he had been trained to do. There is some truth to both arguments: Derek Chauvin is and was a vicious arbiter of violence, and that ultimately resulted in the murder of George Floyd. Likewise, Chauvin worked so comfortably within the confines of his training that his employment department saw fit to allow him to train rookie officers to do the job the same way he did. Derek Chauvin, the police officer, was no exception among other police officers, but rather a standard bearer. He only became exceptional when he was tried and convicted of murder.
Otherwise, the same is true of the Justice Department’s selection of Minneapolis for the investigation of patterns or practices. Just as Derek Chauvin was cast as a bad apple over the course of his murder trial, one that did not reflect a rot inside the larger barrel, the Minneapolis police department is now under scrutiny as somehow only bad, only that deserve and require federal intervention. The reality, of course, is that just as Chauvin was doing a version of something the police do all the time during his fatal engagement to George Floyd, the Minneapolis police department operates in the same way as all police departments. the country in general. function. The dozens of police killings that have occurred in the past month weren’t limited to Minneapolis; they took place everywhere.
When the court convicts Derek Chauvin, as long as the Justice Department directs Minneapolis in a consent decree to force police “reform” (as is the usual result of these pattern or practice investigations), these will be hailed as markers. of Justice” . But we must be careful, as they serve another purpose, whether intentionally or not. These legal decisions, directed at a former police officer who reflects the general nature of his previous profession or a city whose police department reflects the general nature of the American police in general, are also ways in which the criminal punishment system atomizes and particularizes a problem that is fully generalizable. Prosecutors made it clear that the police were not being tried; Derek Chauvin was. Merrick Garland has made clear that policing is not the subject of the Justice Department investigation; one police department among the 18,000 we have in the United States is.
That is why it is important to find hope in the right places. While I don’t find hope in one man’s conviction or one city’s scapegoat for a national issue, I do find it in crowds elsewhere. I find it in particular within the justice work that people are doing all the time in community after community everywhere: in mutual aid organizations, violence prevention groups, organizers of the Movement for Black Lives and the many groups that show solidarity with them. Their work and commitments are where the hope is, because what they fight for is literally a better world for all people. And that – far more than one ex-cop punished by a system that gladly employed him in its service for 20 years, and now happily points to his punishment as an example of its own inherent justice – is worthy of our hope.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism