I cried when I heard the verdict. The tears were a long time coming. And they were complicated. They began out of relief because I honestly didn’t think he would be found guilty of all three charges. I thought maybe one or two, tops. Then my tears continued at the realization of exactly how justifiably low my expectations are of my country’s legal system. Then more tears of relief that the country didn’t have to burn. Because literally and/or figuratively, there would have been no other option.
The only thing necessary for a country to become ungovernable is for enough people to believe that it’s ungovernable. If a police officer slowly killing a Black man in broad daylight for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, sparking months-long protests in over 2,000 cities and towns in every single state—not to mention more than 60 other countries—resulted in anything other than guilty across the board, a painful and bloody collapse would’ve been inevitable.
I know some people feel this verdict was a victory. Others feel it was justice. Some see it as accountability. As we are still eight weeks away from sentencing and who knows how far from his final appeal, those feelings seem premature to me. With the nearly 400 voter suppression bills introduced by republicans and the democrat president wanting to give the police an extra $300 million instead of defunding them, it’s pretty hard for me to see a single verdict as any type of progress. Especially when that particular verdict is the absolute bare minimum required to acknowledge George Floyd as a human being.
If anything, it feels like we slowed the speed at which we’re hurtling backwards, just for a moment.
Just for a moment.
Right before the verdict came in, Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl in Columbus, Ohio, was gunned down by police. The obfuscating will begin soon, if it hasn’t already. Police will call her death a “good shoot.” She will be dehumanized. On the remote chance that her killer faces charges, Ma’Khia will be the person put on trial.
See? That moment was over before it started. Again, it’s bigger than one verdict. It’s an entire system that contains not just the knee on George Floyd’s neck and not just the bullets in Ma’Khia Bryant’s back. It’s not just the nearly 400 voter suppression bills and the $300 million presidential award to police. It’s not just the easy villains like the vicious militarized goons from last summer’s protests or the three white cops telling Ma’Khia Bryant’s Black neighbors that “blue lives matter.”
The system also contains white liberalism reflexively reimagining reality for the sake of comfortable and familiar narratives. For instance, Nancy Pelosi thanking George Floyd “for sacrificing your life for justice.”
As if he had a choice.
As if he had agency.
As if he wouldn’t have rather gone home to his daughter.
As if volunteering to die wasn’t the exact opposite of what we all watched for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
As if the brutal, public slaying of an innocent man by an agent of the state could achieve justice.
It’s a sick and twisted kind of lunacy that is so commonplace it almost seems generous.
We, as Americans, can no longer afford to operate under these delusions when we absolutely know better. The United States is not some magical land where right always bests wrong and a hero shows up right on time to save us from ourselves. We are not our institutions and progress does not come when our institutions triumph. It comes when we triumph despite our institutions. Again, it took the entire world exploding in anger for months on end in order for one single, solitary man to be found guilty of three lesser murder charges. And despite undeniable video evidence, we were all pretty sure it was going to go the other way.
We’ve managed to pull ourselves back from the precipice for the moment, but we are still dangerously close. James Baldwin said, “We will live here together or we’ll die here together. I am telling you. Time is telling you. You will listen, or you will perish.”
Are you listening?
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