This month marks the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin. On May 25, 2020, the videotape of Floyd being suffocated for nine minutes and forty five seconds under Chauvin’s knee went viral and inspired multi-racial marches and rallies for Black Lives across the nation.
Throughout that summer, America was riveted by a national conversation over race and justice. It seemed folks had finally moved past the question of whether racism in policing was an issue in the United States and started to ask what should be done to rectify this wrong. And beyond that – what should be done about the systemic racism that funneled too many Black Americans into poverty, prisons and unnecessary early deaths.
But despite some early wins for the Black Lives movement, two years later we are grappling with more racist violence and creative new policy violence.
The 2020 protests led to many tangible successes. For one, in April 2021, in a rare instance of a police officer being convicted for a wrongful homicide, Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 years, marking a change in the near impunity from conviction for acts officers commit on duty.
Chauvin’s conviction jumpstarted more good news — A few states across the nation passed legislation which strengthened citizens rights when suing police by ending the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity, which shields police from prosecution.
But while the changes may help balance the scales of justice in the future, the rate of police killings continues. The article cited here records the travesties of justice that have occurred since May 2020. Several of the stories recounted surpass or equal the callousness of Floyd’s death. Police who target Black Americans still use excessive force in part because they have the protection of district attorneys.
In cases like the infamous death of Breonna Taylor — an unarmed woman killed at her home in the middle of the night — the State Attorney General was able to leverage enough influence that the officers who shot Taylor were not even charged. The Attorney General, under pressure to reveal how this happened admitted he actually never asked the grand jury to consider charging the police with homicide.
Aside from police encounters, other incidents of anti-Black racism regularly appear in the news.
Earlier this month, a white eighteen year old who had previously spouted white supremacist propaganda drove to a supermarket in Buffalo, New York with the intent to shoot and kill as many Black people as possible. His racially-motivated attack left 10 people dead.
Gatherings and vigils following the massacre have revived the chant “Black Lives Matter!” The nation has heard the cry a thousand times, but its import has not penetrated America’s soul.
The months of protests in 2020 following Floyd’s murder were punctuated by calls for a national conversation surrounding race. The discussion that we should have must accept that our country was founded on racism. It’s the only legitimate way to access the impact of anti-black racism beginning with slavery to Jim Crow to today’s Black unemployment numbers which are consistently twice as high as the national average.
But the push to discuss structural racism has met concerted political backlash. Rather than let the truths revealed by the Black Lives Matter Movement penetrate the national consciousness, conservatives launched a strawman campaign under the guise of banning Critical Race Theory, which is really a campaign to end any discussion of racism or how to combat it in schools, colleges and public institutions. We seem to be right back at square one, still haranguing the country to do something to acknowledge the importance of Black lives.
Fourteen states have passed anti -CRT legislation which curtail how history and can be taught, or how teachers can handle subjects related to racism, often using extremely vague language that attempts to ban discussion of segregation and racist economic disenfranchisement, as though they had not happened in the past, and aren’t still happening today. The anti-CRT campaigns have no intellectual substance and amount to legislation that empowers white conservatives to check information – including indisputable facts and major historical milestones — which makes white Americans uncomfortable.
The anti-CRT campaign proves there remain substantial numbers of white Americans who are profoundly uncomfortable revisiting the nation’s heinous legacy of racism, or admitting that systemic racism impacts Black lives.
But as I sit here, on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, I wonder whether these Americans are more comfortable with the white supremacist ideals of the Buffalo shooter? Or the bigotry of a previous killer, Dylan Roof, who massacred nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina?
In their twisted worldview, they want to reduce the conversation to mark both white supremacists and those who support Black Lives as extremists.
But studying history doesn’t kill people. In fact it may prevent future killing from happening.
America has not yet learned the most basic lesson of them all: The truth will set you free. A national will that is dedicated to rectifying racism is the only way forward.