Op-Ed: Derek Chauvin's Guilty Verdict Isn't Justice

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty

I never thought we’d see the day when a white cop was held accountable for killing a Black person. I can still remember back in 2014 when the cop who killed Eric Garner didn’t even get indicted, even though an autopsy showed he died from being choked. How many times in the almost seven years since have we watched white cops kill Black folks and get to walk free? One of the cops who killed Breonna Taylor is not only walking free, but has a fucking book deal. So, there is no evidence that Chauvin would have actually been held accountable. But just because he was doesn’t mean that the times are changing when it comes to white police being held accountable.

And this isn’t justice for George Floyd, either.

Something about the killing of George Floyd was different. He wasn’t the first Black man to be killed by white police officers. But for some reason, when he died, people took notice. Maybe it was because everyone was home and had nothing else to focus on. Because it certainly wasn’t solely the video evidence of his killing; we have seen countless videos of Black men being murdered by police, and there hasn’t been the same kind of outcry we saw with George Floyd. His death turned Black Lives Matter into a global movement, and it was really something to witness. For several weeks last summer, the country (and the world) came together amidst a global pandemic to stand in solidarity with the Black community. During those weeks, white folks used their social media accounts to amplify Black voices, and seemed to dig into how to dismantle white supremacy.

For Black folks, George Floyd’s killing was just another of many. Yet again, we had to steel our nerves as the video of his death was played over and over. The hearts and arms of Black mothers ached as we heard George call out in anguish for his momma. This time, people took notice — and started to listen when the Black community begged for our humanity. It seemed that people started to hear us when we said we wanted our men to grow old. They started to see those slain by police as more than just people in videos and hashtags. People actually began to believe that Black lives matter.

As a result, people took to the streets. Millions of people marched across the world, holding up signs and chanting words of peace, the words of the dead, or reminding those who want to forget that we exist. And as people said “no more,” they were met with fierce resistance. I remember scrambling to get groceries as Los Angeles declared a city-wide curfew. And my city wasn’t the only one: across the United States, police in riot gear terrorized those who took to the streets to demand justice. It was really quite a striking picture to see. Police officers with battering rams and shields sending tear gas into crowds who chanted “I can’t breathe.” Rubber bullets being aimed at the people who were there to demand justice. Police terrorized people who were there to fight police brutality, proving the need to take to the streets in living color.

And as we fought for George Floyd and all the other Black folks who were killed by the police, our community was being ravaged by COVID-19. Black folks were dying in larger numbers than everyone else, and it felt like nowhere was safe. Those who took to the streets were risking their lives in more ways than one. By fighting against the police, they were also risking dying of a murderous illness. Masks throughout the crowds read “Black Lives Matter,” the words taking on another meaning entirely. And as we marched, the world watched.

With the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial, finally, a white police officer was held truly accountable for killing a Black person without just cause. This accountability is a long time coming — and it feels like seeing it happen once proves that it is possible, and maybe it can happen again. But we must remember one crucial thing: Derek Chauvin being found guilty isn’t justice for George Floyd. If there was any sort of justice, George Floyd would still be alive. Justice means that he wouldn’t have had a police officer kneel on his neck for almost 10 minutes. If there was any sort of justice, his daughter would have a father today. So no, this guilty verdict most certainly isn’t justice. This verdict is the first step in accountability, and there’s a big difference.

Unfortunately, just because the killer of George Floyd was held accountable doesn’t mean that things are changing. Call me jaded, but there was no way they couldn’t find him guilty. Not after everything that happened last year. There was only one way for things to go, or this spring could have mirrored the widespread unrest of summer 2020. And more than anything, they wanted to avoid that. Derek Chauvin is guilty, and should be punished —but he’s also the sacrificial pig. Someone had to be made an example of, and after the worldwide outcry, it had to be him. Some people may take that as a win, but anyone with an ounce of critical thinking knows not to let this push us to a place of complacency.

Just a week ago, a 20-year-old Black man was murdered by a police officer who “thought” she was pulling a taser on him instead of a gun. Only days after that, a 13-year-old boy was killed by police. And as we were all focusing on the verdict in the Chauvin trial, police in Columbus, Ohio shot and killed a 16-year-old girl — just a few months after police in the same city killed a 23-year-old as he was returning to his grandmother’s house.

While the cop who killed Daunte Wright was charged with manslaughter — again, they had to. That case is happening less than 10 miles away from where the George Floyd case took place. Too many people are watching for them to do anything other than what they’re supposed to.

It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd’s killing to give this country a much-needed wake up call. After all, there is nothing about him that is fundamentally different than Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or Elijah McClain. Breonna Taylor was killed right before Floyd, and her killers are walking free. Contrary to what some people might say (or have said), George Floyd isn’t a martyr. He didn’t die so that this fucked-up country could be enlightened on race relations. This is a man who would still be alive if there was any sort of real justice in this country. He’s not the poster child for Black people who’ve been murdered. We shouldn’t be thanking him for dying so that one cop could be held accountable for murder. That’s not what any of this is.

While I’m appreciative that those jurors did the right thing, I have too much weariness in my heart. I think of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor. All of the Black people who were murdered at the hands of the police who were allowed to walk free. Their lives matter as much as George Floyd. I will say their names every day.

This goes beyond justice. We must tear down the system and build something more equitable that will actually treat Black folks how we should be treated. Black people shouldn’t have to beg for our humanity anymore.