There are days when the places we’re from turn into every other place in America. I still go to watch fireworks, or I still go to watch the brief burst of brightness glow on the faces of black children, some of them miles away from the forgotten corners of the city they’ve been pushed to. Some of them smiling and pointing upwards, still too young to know of America’s hunt for their flesh. How it wears the blood of their ancestors on its teeth.
Every so often. Maybe once every 2 or 3 years, I feel I simply cannot be home alone. These are the days or nights when something really significant happens. The 1st Obama election. Donald Trump winning over Hillary. 9/11. The historic supreme courts rulings a few years ago legalizing gay marriage and protecting trans-gender rights.
I was in my car and nearly home when the verdict from the Derek Chauvin trial was announced. I quickly took the next exit and went to the Bratenhal Bistro. I just needed to be around others to process this. Not to talk to them exactly. But just to share space with others at this moment. It is so rare for actual justice when a black person is killed, especially by a white police officer, that I felt I needed to not be alone. Even though the place close to my house is mostly old white conservatives, it was the best I could do at spur of the moment. I was honestly a little bit shaky and just wanted to get off the road.
When an armed man kills another man by handcuffing him and then calmly kneeling on his neck until the man is dead; all on video and in front of dozens of witnesses, it would seem that a trial would be a very unnecessary formality en route to a quick guilty conviction followed by decades in prison. But such is the American justice system for blacks, that we all were on the edge of our seats these past few days. Today, when the news announced a verdict had been reached, the tension was thick as blood in the air. One way or another, history was about to be made.
So today was a good day. A victory. But sadly, perhaps a pyrrhic victory. A very small battle won in a much larger and bloodier war. A war in which one side has all the weapons and strategic advantages and the benefits of institutional support.
Two things stick out about today. One. If there was not a video of the incident, the police would have followed their generations old tactic of simply lying and sticking together. And always the justice system believes the police over any number of civilians, irregardless of all other evidence.
Second. We also know that if that were a black police officer and a white man, the burden of proof would have been such that there would have been no anxiety about the outcome. When a white person is killed in this country, we react in a certain way. When a black person is killed, we react in a very different way. This has been proven out for years and years. The prisons are full of black men and women convicted on the slimmest of evidence. While we require a crystal clear video of the entire maddening and heartbreaking event for an entitled and protected white cop to be convicted.
But alas, convicted he was. I’ll shed no tears for Derek Chauvin. Fuck him. That look he gave into the camera as he killed Mr. Floyd was chilling and makes me mourn for him not. In the Buddhist view of our time existence, that mentality probably means I will need to add 10 or 15 more lifetimes to my sentence. But I will serve them and endeavor to learn to forgive in one of those lifetimes. But now is not the time for me.
But we must also be careful not to read too deeply into this conviction. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that a corner has been turned. That this means we can now start to find cops being held accountable. Since March 29, when testimony on this trial began, more than 70 people have been killed by police in the United States—more than ½ of them Black or Latino. Cops get off 99% of the time even in circumstances that seem like clear cut murder. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Michael Brown….These are just names I know off the top of my head. There are hundreds and hundreds more. And precious few convictions. The law and institutional bias aided by years of myth and misinformation from informal and formal media sources have served to make it nearly impossible to convict a cop of killing a black person.
So we must not think this is more than what it is—a temporary victory.
When the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal in 2015, I was driving home from Chicago to Columbus. Brian and I talked on the phone for several hours. We were jubilant–thinking that we had turned a corner and social progress was finally to be made. Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen had just been added to the court and it felt like we could finally shake off the religious dogma that had influenced our judicial system for far too long. But…..then came Trump and Kavanaugh and Gorsuch and Coney-Barrett and poof. Just like that, we were moving backwards again.
So while tonight is a good night to give thanks to justice and positive vibes to all, we must know that things will remain hard for years to come.
I was planning to meet Lynn for dinner after work tonight. Downtown. But minutes before we were to meet the verdict still had not been read. So we decided to meet tomorrow instead. If this verdict had gone the other direction, I imagine downtown would have quickly filled with protestors. Where I would have gladly joined. But it seemed sensible to not be enjoying an overpriced dinner at a nice downtown restaurant if things went south. Based on the protests last summer, we might have been closed into downtown all night or even longer and I asked Lynn to move our dinner to tomorrow night. Soon after we made alternative plans, the verdict was announced.