By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
Long before the trial of Derek Chauvin began, Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, said that her daddy changed the world.
Just past 5:00pm this afternoon, a Hennepin County jury declared their verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who murdered George Floyd. Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges, and while this was a small step in a long road towards equity and justice, the verdict seemed to result in a collective exhale in a country that was indeed, as I heard a news analyst say today, afraid to hope.
“It’s been a long journey, and it’s been less than a year. And the person that comes to my mind is [from] 1955, and to me, he was the first George Floyd. That was Emmett Till,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, speaking to the press following the guilty verdicts.
Emmett Till was a 14 year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten, and lynched after having been accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. His story is only one of so many black men, as well as black women, who have been lynched throughout the plagued, shameful history of America. One of so many who has been denied justice and his own humanity. One whose life white America sought to erase from its record.
Before Emmett Till, especially in the times immediately following emancipation, lynchings were a far-too-common event through which white people sought to assert power and control over newly-freed black people. Woven within that painful history are inspirational pioneers like Ida B. Wells, who used her writing and investigative journalistic skills to document and reveal the true motivations of fear and power-seeking that promulgated lynchings. As I thought about America’s complicated past leading to the verdict today, I thought of Wells. Her courage then, like then-17 year-old Darnella Frazier’s in May 2020 as she bravely filmed the murder of Floyd, catalyzed change. Wells and Frazier offer powerful reminders that in the words of Wells herself, “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” We should all be grateful to Darnella for her vital part in doing just that.
Still, though, while this verdict is an important step towards equity and justice, it is an example of accountability, not justice itself. Justice was denied to George Floyd from the very moment he ended up face down on the ground.
“We need true justice. That is not one case. That is a social transformation that says no one is beneath the law and no one is above. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring, systemic, societal change,” said Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General. “We need to use this verdict as an inflection point. What if we just prevented the problem instead of having to try these cases?…This verdict demands us to never give up the hope that we can make enduring change.”
Ellison is exactly right. This verdict restores hope in this nation that indeed, a change can come. But where do we go from here? Who will we become? Will we indeed use this moment as an inflection point, an opportunity to advocate for policy change? We can begin by ensuring that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill that would implement some police reforms by ending qualified immunity, implement better data collection on police misconduct, increase federal oversight on state and local law departments, ban chokeholds, and more, is passed into law.
From there, we must dig deeper. We must delve further into policy changes beyond policing, addressing systemic issues of civil rights including democratic access, the wealth gap, educational inequity, health provision, non-violent sentencing, cash bail, and so, so much more. But ultimately, we have to examine ourselves. The biases and prejudices that have been instilled in us by a country founded on stolen land, on racist premises; a country with history steeped in white supremacy.
Until we reckon with this history, acknowledge the subsequent impacts of it on our lives nearly 250 years later, and commit ourselves to antiracism–not just being race-neutral or colorblind, because those are not productive perspectives–we will continue to oppress and suppress the humanity within each of us. But we can choose to advocate for, and indeed, demand deliberate policies that promote equitable opportunities for people both individually and systemically.
George Floyd. George Floyd. George Floyd. Let’s continue to say his name as his legacy, along with the legacies of so many others denied their own justice and humanity, guides our work towards a more perfect union, a union that doesn’t have to hope for equal justice under law. Let’s continue to say his name as he guides us to, indeed, change the world.