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At this moment in US judicial history, Black life matters

On April 20, 2021, blue could not eclipse Black. Derek Chauvin’s murder and manslaughter verdicts meant that in George Floyd’s case, America’s constitutional laws and rights held true — justice for all.

At face value, Black Lives Matter is a slogan. A deeper purview recognizes it as a question aimed directly at the United States of America. One that has been asked repeatedly and painstakingly in desperate hope that the answer, for once in over four centuries, is a yes.

The verdict for whether or not Derek Chauvin was guilty of George Perry Floyd, Jr.’s, death was the loudest ask in recent American history. 

The video recording of Chauvin kneeling almost 90 pounds of his body weight into the neck of a handcuffed man for the world to witness wasn’t enough to answer the question. A video recording certainly wasn’t enough for Rodney King to acquire justice. King was Black and never received his right of a fair due process, despite being a victim. 

Every white man in America, including Chauvin, is conceived with the birthright to due process, technology be damned. The disgraced ex-Minneapolis police officer received his due process, and when Black America once again queried Lady Liberty, her reply was foreign: A white cop had been found guilty of lynching a Black man. Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd.

Community members gathered in silence on June 14, 2020, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis. (Photo by Chris Juhn for iPondr)

The answer meant that at this current moment in American judicial history, Black life matters. 

Floyd’s Black life mattered. Not solely to his prosecution team and 12 jurors (half of which were white), but to a historically insidious system that has bent its own laws in disfavor of those its forefathers kidnapped, tortured and bleached of identity. 

The answer meant that the protection for pale complexion currency could not cash in. Not only is the stock on ebony existence higher than ever, it was protected by what’s long been its hell. The flames in that hell have been kept high by its federal and civil law enforcement, which lives under a massive multibillion-dollar blue shield.

On April 20, blue could not eclipse Black. Chauvin’s succession of murder and manslaughter verdicts meant that in Floyd’s case, America’s constitutional laws and rights — justice for all — were more important than a system rooted in white supremacy.  

At a news conference following the guilty verdict in the trial of ex-officer Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021, attorney Benjamin Crump, right, leader of George Floyd family’s legal team, hugs Donald Williams, who witnessed Floyd’s murder and testified for the prosecution. (Photo by Chris Juhn for iPondr)

Those on the right side of this case should not be blinded by victory. This was not a blowout. The biased system remains alive and as lethal as ever. Its very existence afforded a fighting chance for historically standard results. 

The defense team was essentially obligated to deploy all-too-common bottom-feeder tactics. There was the sad ploy to attribute Floyd’s expiration to him inhaling the police car’s exhaust fumes. Defense attorneys even tried to allude to the possibility of the victim being complicit in his own death. Floyd’s toxicology and underlying health conditions were used against him, but failed to prove that were it not for the knee on Floyd’s neck, he would not be dead today. The same despicable attempts were made against Trayvon Martin’s decision to wear a hoodie, Sandra Bland’s toxicology, and every African American shot by police because they were holding a smartphone. 

The trains of thought behind these courtroom hustles are aligned with those who’ve referred to this case as the “George Floyd Trial” instead of the “Derek Chauvin Trial,” when only the latter was accused of murder. The psychological conditioning of white supremacy will have even those footed on the right side of the fight seeing wrong.

Let’s be clear: The prosecution produced a sterling case. 

They attacked the blue shield, forcing it to expose the ugly it guards. Several police officers took the stand in opposition of Chauvin’s arrest practices. Rare testimony from a Minneapolis police chief was a marlin-size catch. Medaria Arradondo, the man responsible for firing Chauvin and the other three officers who were present at the scene, made plain that the defendant’s actions against Floyd were excessive and in violation of several police policies. 

While the officers’ testimony –– especially Arradondo’s –– was paramount to the victory, the biggest score came from the testimony of medical experts. Pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin may have impressed the greatest influence on the jury. The Irish American doctor who specializes in the mechanics of breathing, widened the prosecution’s lead by brilliantly placing each juror under Chauvin’s knee. 

Tobin instructed the 12 to palpate their own necks in order for them to feel a semblance of Floyd’s discomfort. Jurors were then asked to imagine that pressure magnified exponentially. Tobin even put the kibosh on the possibility of Floyd’s heart condition aiding in his demise. “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result,” he said. 

In sports terms, it appeared as if the prosecution never trailed. Yet, people of color were more hopeful than confident. After all, this is America. 

Children play joyfully with newly blown bubbles at the gathering to celebrate the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis on April 20, 2021. (Photo by Andrea Ellen Reed for iPondr)

The United States judicial system proclaiming aloud and most publicly that Floyd’s Black life mattered is greater and far more loaded than a simple reply. It was an invitation for dialogue. Not only did America answer, it provided a follow-up question –– one that could be considered a prayer. Chauvin’s conviction is the USA crying out its desire to finally stand upright. It wants to know if erect posture is possible under the weight of its past. 

Except, there’s no time for wonder; only for progress. 

Awaiting Tuesday’s verdict, Van Jones — a Black lawyer, author and political commentator — spoke luminously to its considerable breadth and significance. “Humanity is on trial,” he said.

For better and worse, Minnesota has remained the capital of America’s most recent Black Lives versus Blue Blood unrest. Although this newest chapter in Black revolution commenced with the early 2020 killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the entire country began to fume and blaze once Chauvin suffocated Floyd to death. 

A protester faces off with police at the site where a Brooklyn Center, Minn., officer killed Daunte Wright hours earlier, on April 11, 2021. The killing happened during the trial of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty in George Floyd’s murder. (Photo by Chris Juhn for iPondr)

That day, May 25, 2020, on the corner of Chicago Avenue and East 38th Street, the inferno sparked, figuratively. It literally ignited three days later on the corner of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, where the Minneapolis Third Precinct was torched by protesters. The fire spread nationwide, inspiring — for the first time in U.S. history — BLM protests in each of the 50 states.

Apparently, the murder of Floyd was required in order for the USA to live up to its name. 

Nonetheless, devils play wherever angels dance. Since Floyd’s death to the day Chauvin was convicted, 200 Black people have been killed by police, according to the research group Mapping Police Violence. Nine days before Chauvin’s convictions, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a white female veteran cop who claimed she thought she was firing her Taser. The tragedy took place in Brooklyn Center, Minn. — a suburb of Minneapolis just 15 miles from where Floyd was killed. 

Siblings console each other as they mourn the loss of Daunte Wright, who was killed by police, at his newly erected memorial in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 14, 2021. (Photo by Andrea Ellen Reed for iPondr)

Minnesota’s Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is white, said flatly that her state is an unsafe place for Black people. Melvin Carter, a Black man, is the mayor of nearby St. Paul as well as a Minnesota native. He’s on record stating that despite having spent significant time in the Deep South earning a bachelor’s degree at Florida A&M University, his experiences with police harassment have occurred primarily in his home state. 

With Minnesota being the ground for this unprecedented piece of history, as well as for historic racist police practices, it would behoove the state to answer its country’s prayers and lead in its cleansing — in its desire to stand upright, not sideways. Corrupt police departments and racist officers are major contributors to America’s scoliosis. 

The road to actual greatness begins with the reformation of these corroded institutions while mandating cops to handle Black lives with as much care as any other American life. Make Chauvin the cautionary example to all averse to melanin, but also hear lawmakers when they remind us that verdicts are not a substitute for policy changes. 

If Black and brown America’s recent request was manifested, it would be two-fold: not just the embarking toward a new day in United States history, but a national repentance for tattooing the noose into the African American narrative as well. More specifically, the beginning of a criminally overdue apology to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Rayshard Brooks, Stephon Clark, Eleanor Bumpurs, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Elijah McClain, Charleena Chavon Lyles, Chinedu Okobi, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Daniel Prude, Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant… .

On April 14, 2021, during the trial of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, activists added “Justice for Daunte Wright” on the ground beneath a portrait of Floyd at George Floyd Square at 38th and Chicago Avenue where Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. (Photo by Andrea Ellen Reed for iPondr)

About the visual artists: Two photographers captured the mourning for Daunte Wright, who was killed by a police officer on April 11, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn., and the relief after ex-police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction in the murder of George Floyd. Read more about Andrea Ellen Reed  and Chris Juhn

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Bonsu Thompson

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