On Tuesday 20th April 2021 police officer Derek Chauvin was found unanimously guilty of all charges relating to the murder of George Floyd.
The third-degree murder charge. Chauvin caused George’s death by “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”
The second-degree manslaughter charge. Chauvin caused George’s death by “culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm.”
Second-degree unintentional murder charge. Chauvin caused George’s death “without intent” while committing or attempting to commit felony third-degree assault. In turn, third-degree assault is defined as the intentional infliction of substantial bodily harm.
The relief of this verdict has rippled across the world; there is no doubt this is a landmark moment. We must also remember that the reason the overriding feeling was of relief, is because there was a genuine fear that despite the overwhelming evidence this would not be the outcome. Never before has a White police officer in Minneapolis been held accountable for murder, let alone of a Black man. It’s important to remember this verdict is a good one – right here, right now. This verdict alone cannot and does not change the system but it sends the right message across the globe – a reasonable jury convicted a White police officer of murder – and this resonates throughout America and the world. We hope it marks the turning point for accountability not only from law enforcers but for all our sectors upholding systemic institutional racism as a whole. We need to rejoice in this moment. When we look back we hope we recognise it for what it should be – the moment that turned the tide.
At the same time, we know we need to remain cautious and vigilant, at almost at the exact same moment that Chauvin’s guilty verdict was being announced, another young Black life, 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, was lost at the hands of the police. Rest in Power Ma’Khia, we will say your name.
We also know that one conviction does not change the system and that it is important to reflect on what this means, the steps taken so far and the road ahead.
How did we get here?
17-year-old Darnella Frazier could not have known that when she began filming the cold and callous murder of George Floyd that her 9 minute and 29 seconds of footage would not only prove vital evidence in a murder trial but would be the first step in the long road to change the world. At the height of a global pandemic it was her (and others) video(s) that made many people finally realise that a far more insidious disease, Racism, had been affecting and killing Black people for hundreds of years and still was. These recordings were made by people who knew that what they were witnessing was wrong, so very wrong. Why did it take such a visceral video to do this? How many innocent Black and Brown people were murdered by the police before the advent of camera phones? How many more Eric Garners, Michael Browns and Tamir Rices were there before the advent of YouTube and Facebook? How many nameless and faceless victims are lying in cold graves without any justice for themselves or their families? How many police officers over the centuries literally got away with murder?
How May 25th 2020 Changed the World
The light shone so brightly on George Floyd’s murder that it illuminated more than just police brutality in the US, it illuminated the very real racism that pervades right here in the UK and yes, even in Cumbria. The pain, grief and injustices were laid bare and there was no going back. Collectively, the Black and Brown diaspora across the globe made a noise so loud that power had no choice but to listen. The largest civil rights movement the world has ever seen was galvanised under the BlackLivesMatter banner and more White Allies than ever before were born as a result. In every corner of the globe, people took to the street to demand change. As the protests died down, instead of simply going ‘back to normal’ protestors became co-ordinators and thousands of new organisations began to ask what to do once the protests were over. What more can people do than take the knee each week? What else can we share on social other than a black square? What can be DONE about racism? What needs to CHANGE? In Cumbria three women; one Black, one Dual Heritage and one White founded Anti Racist Cumbria with the aim of creating the UK’s first anti-racist county and build a framework that other counties can emulate.
What are we trying to fix?
Together we must all keep the volume turned up because Chauvin isn’t really the problem, the real problem is the racist system that devalues Black lives and does not pursue the perpetrators who take them. The problem isn’t ‘a few bad apples’. The problem is a racist system, a 400-year long legacy that keeps Black people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The problem is the racist media that perpetuates racist stereotypes and tropes that have reduced the Black reality to a caricature of criminality, violence and drugs, creating fear and paranoia amongst White populations. The problem is a dominant society that has buried its head in the sand, refused to acknowledge its true history and that its systems, built long ago are no longer fit for purpose. The problem is the continued gaslighting by politicians and those in power who refuse, or are unwilling to build a more equitable society.
The systems we still use now have historically and traditionally placed low commodity and social value on Black and Brown lives. The criminal investigation and media reporting into the murder of a Black body is totally different to that of a White body. We do not live in a society of equals. The police know this, and so do the young Black boys and young Black girls who are expected to grow, live and thrive in a system that was never designed to include or protect them. White parents do not have to tell their children to wear distinctive clothing so they are less likely to ‘fit the description’. White pregnant women do not have to worry that simply the colour of their skin means they are more likely to die in childbirth, have mental health issues or be underdiagnosed but over medicated. White people of course have many hurdles to face in life, but the colour of their skin is not one of them. That is what White Privilege means.
We are coming for the systems. That is why we continue to shout, because no one who truly understands what Black Lives Matter means thinks this is over. There are still many in the UK who question why George Floyd’s murder matters here, asking themselves and others “surely it’s an American problem?”, something that “doesn’t affect Black people in the UK”, and “couldn’t possibly have anything to do with beautiful rural Cumbria.” Yet as this short video highlights, racism is sadly alive and well in our beautiful county. It’s why we want our businesses, schools and those in Power to become anti-racist, it’s why we want you to stop being non-racist and become anti-racist, it’s why we exist, why we resist and why we believe that those who believe in freedom cannot rest.
We know this verdict is a drop in the river of justice that needs to flow. We know this verdict doesn’t even begin to heal the centuries of Black pain. We know this verdict is not justice. We know George Floyd should still be alive today. But we also know it is a step in the right direction, that the whole system is guilty, and that this at last is..