Derek Chauvin’s Trial is Beginning: What has America Learned, and How Do We Continue Forward?
On March 25, 2020, the world watched as George Floyd laid face down on a street outside a Minneapolis shop, pleading for his life. Floyd was accused of attempting to pay for cigarettes with a “fake” $20 bill. Floyd was handcuffed and restrained by police officers, while then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s head and neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds. Those moments, captured on spectators’ mobile cameras and shared on social media and the news, were Floyd’s final moments alive.
BBC News reports Floyd appeared cooperative at the beginning of the arrest and apologized repeatedly to the officers, but a struggle ensued when officers tried to put Floyd in their squad car. In response, officer Chauvin the “maximum restraint technique,” as per the Minneapolis PD training materials. Floyd never had the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law.
No one could have imagined the impact those final moments would have on America. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, summer 2020 was defined by protests in major cities like New York, Chicago, and Portland. America erupted – more specifically, Black America erupted with generations of fear, anger, and frustration driving people to protests in the streets. Floyd’s name became a rallying cry for protesters against police brutality and injustice, reports Newsweek. The Black community is over-policed for minor infractions that draw virtually no attention anywhere else, according to CBS News.
As the jury selection for Chauvin’s trial begins, what remains is an astounding mobilization by the Black community and allies, all the while Chauvin’s lawyer seeks to delay the trial until after Floyd’s family settles a 27 million lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the police department. The main shift is people who have not considered, or experienced police brutality are now faced with seeing it from the perspective of millions of Black Americans. Since Floyd’s death, a poll by Politico concludes six in ten white Americans now say racism is a “big problem” in society. Moreover, Floyd’s killing reveals a greater problem between law enforcement and the Black community. This new outlook on race relations and police brutality brings hope for long-overdue change in police training.
So, where does that leave the U.S. since Floyd’s death? History.com says states are slowly removing the Confederate Statues are spread over 31 states plus the District of Columbia – far exceeding the 11 Confederate states that seceded at the outset of the Civil War. Police departments across the country are beginning to consider reform. On March 3, 2021, House lawmakers voted 220-212 to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a sweeping reform bill that would ban chokeholds and alter so-called qualified immunity for law enforcement, NPR reports. The legislation also redirects funding to community-based programs, opens the door to pursue claims of police misconduct, and excludes religious and racial profiling, among other reforms.
Meanwhile, NFL reversed their opinion on taking a knee during the National Anthem by issuing an apology to Colin Kaepernick, who first led the silent protest among Black athletes and the Black community. Corporate America also took a stand on race relations, with companies like social media giant Tiktok and tech giant IBM showing full support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is no doubt that police officers are faced with challenging responsibilities making the work they do important. No one wants to see their city burning down or police officers getting hurt. Good police officers should be respected and appreciated for what they give to maintain peace and security in the areas they patrol. However, what America is coming to realize is that the phrase “law and order” is used to justify abusive crackdowns on peaceful protestors puts Black Americans on edge for justifiable reasons. The pursuit of liberty and justice cannot succeed in chaos.
The American people can no longer turn a blind eye to abuses against the Black community. Some will say that Floyd was a criminal with an extensive record and that Chauvin was doing his “job.” Others might say “Floyd should have obeyed orders”, while others might think those police officers had the right to restrain criminals by any means necessary. What Floyd and Chauvin have done is open the dialogue between white America and Black America. Let us not forget that Floyd did not have the opportunity to defend himself in court, while Chauvin has been given that privilege.
No matter your thoughts or feelings about Floyd or Chauvin, the death of Floyd changed the U.S., deeply and forever.