A GUILTY VERDICT DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE AN EXONERATED COUNTRY
The story of George Floyd is reminiscent of the story of my ancestors, although he and I belong to the same generation. A generation that learned of the danger for Black men in America through the music of Public Enemy and through the brilliant visuals of John Singleton and Spike Lee. Fictional characters like Radio Raheem portrayed the very real subjugation and fear so poignantly, and eerily mirrored the last 9 minutes and 29 seconds of George Floyd’s life; a life violently cut short at the hands of his state sanctioned killers. Floyd, like my ancestors, traveled north for a better life. Sadly, he wasn’t met with equal access to the American Dream, but instead a nightmare of violence, racism, and white supremacy that culminated in his murder. A nightmare played out in daylight and one that now haunts us as a community and a country; a terror so excruciating that it roused many who were asleep to the trauma and persistent calls to acknowledge the persistence of racial profiling and misuse of power by law enforcement towards black and brown people. The abhorrent behavior of officers and a lack of humanity rampant even in self-proclaimed liberal bastions like greater Minneapolis, Minnesota — a place that has become the epicenter of over-policing in America, where Black people make up 20% of the population yet account for 60% of those killed by cops.
As the nation prepared for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial it conveniently minimizes the persistent and the historical trauma black and brown bodies have been subjected to physically and mentally in America. A national commitment to not disregarding our humanity and denying our contributions and our pain purposefully, with clear intent, since 1619. The belief being that the verdict would exonerate or vindicate America for the heinous and predatory malice inflicted upon black and brown people through policy, inadequate schools, failure in housing policy, medical negligence, access to capital and more. Even if this were to be true, the cost to bear is too great. Once again, a Black life is lost, and the redemption of America comes at the sacrifice of a father, brother, son, and friend. How are we to embrace that “justice” has been served when we know based on our Black experience in this country a conviction of the defendant does not mean he will serve a sentence equal to the crimes in which have been committed. America, I am your child. I am tired, I am STILL angry, and I am wise enough to know I must balance my hope with caution. I am the darker brother who has lost faith in you ever recognizing that we too are beautiful. Despite this sad understanding it is incumbent upon me to remain hopeful for my child and all our nation’s young people that I seek to impact through my work directly and indirectly.
This week’s events have demonstrated how quickly and violently that optimistic feeling can move from a level of confidence to vulnerability. As we waited for the Chauvin verdict, we learned that 11 miles away a young man barely 20 years old was gunned down by one of his state sanctioned overseers. Learning of the Wright murder reminded me that black souls like black bodies must always be on guard — no mistakes, no misjudgment, no accidents allowed. Our humanity and solace have been and continues to be under siege, and those who ask for the most absurd allowances and benefit of doubt will always deny us that same privilege. Our fear is not equal to theirs because despite the white supremacist philosophy that permeates just about every system in America, our power and fortitude is still seen as a threat. Furthermore, those that uphold these systems, whether they will ever admit it publicly or to themselves, understand that any rage that lives dormant in our spirits is their justly — a consequence of building a nation on our backs with knees on our necks. The racial novice will examine the Floyd trial as a singular matter that is being overblown because the footage is clearer than the Rodney King footage on March 3, 1991. For many, policing of America is on trial under the guise of Derek Chauvin; however, I would disparage that narrow perspective. The scourge of rouge policing must be and should be dissected, as we cannot ignore the attempts to paint George Floyd as an aggressive, troublemaker deserving of inhumane treatment. The defense offered a depiction of events to brainwash the jury and the public that we could not trust our eyes. That despite watching a nearly 10-minute public lynching, justification could be found. That we should accept a Black man as an addict, but surely not a person who could suffer from anxiety. We should view a 9-year-old witness as an inciter and member of an angry mob, not as an innocent now scarred with memories of murder in front of her favorite corner store. America treats black children like adults and black adults like children.
Do I believe justice was served — no! Justice is not solely appropriate accountability for egregious wrongdoing. Justice is founded in fundamental liberty and we are not free. We are gripped by a wariness and distrust that makes it hard to breathe. Black parents pray differently. Black men move differently, having to be aware of how our mere existence is perceived as a threat. We are taught to survive rather than being encouraged to live. Only now, more people understand it is not a figment of our imagination. The American story rarely ends with black and brown bodies treated with fairness and equity. The death of Ma’Khai Bryant is a tragedy and in all the arguments circulating the media regarding use of force that day in Columbus, I wonder about the use of care and support offered to her throughout the years before her life was taken. America not only needs the George Floyd Bill to be enacted it needs a moral reckoning to change the calculus of this nation, a nation rot with racial animus and a lack of humanity for black people. America is guilty of committing treason of its black and brown residents and no verdict will erase its pervasive and predatory stain of white supremacy and racism.
Tony Clark is a Professor of Race and Culture, Principal of The T.Clark Group, and The President of The My Brother’s Keeper Taskforce Cambridge