I despise cynicism. It’s lazy, it’s destructive in its inaction, and it’s flatly wrong. All around us—every single day—one can plainly see people go out of their way to help one another. We push cars out of the snow, give money, and run into burning buildings all for the sake of strangers. But there are patterns—systemic patterns. If you see the patterns, there’s a pretty good chance you can make a reasonable guess at likely outcomes. And that can make a person feel cynical. It can make me feel like that, anyway. And I hate it.
As I follow the trial of the former police officer who killed George Floyd, I feel cynical. I follow the pattern. It’s a pattern that’s been going on for a long time and it’s pretty hard to miss. The history of policing in this country stems from hunting people who had escaped enslavement and from busting unions, using unfettered violence to protect wealth and status. Black skin in America has always signified permanent exclusion from both and so it’s a likely outcome that Black people are murdered by police in disproportionate numbers. Those numbers, by the way, which have held steady for the last five years, are almost three times the rate of white victims.
So far during the trial, we have seen witness after witness testify as to exactly what we all know; what we all saw. Traumatized bystanders recounting their experiences of panic and dread. Medical professionals declaring George Floyd’s killer to be just that. Law enforcement officials even spelling out exactly how George Floyd’s killer violated their policies. The testimonies by themselves are enough to give you hope for justice. But these testimonies are not by themselves. They exist within a pattern that so often does not include justice.
We can feel the anxiety because we know the pattern. We know what kind of violence will happen without justice, but what would justice even look like here? A guilty verdict? A life sentence? Even if those things happen—and those are big ifs—what happens next? More redundant laws making murder even more illegal? Or will the entire world erupt in protest again and again every time an unarmed Black person is murdered by the police? This pattern cannot be sustained.
The entire American legal system is on trial right alongside George Floyd’s killer and there is no outcome that can deliver full justice.
I am not cynical. I don’t believe everyone is out for themselves, but of course some undoubtedly are. The socioeconomic, political, and legal systems are very often their tools and like Audre Lourde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
And so, in this moment I will not expect even the best possible outcome of this trial to result in systemic change. I will not expect this trial to result in a great nation-wide purge of racism from law enforcement or even a decrease in the disproportionate killings by police of unarmed people who look like me. All I can do is keep fighting beyond this moment and hope his killer is brought to justice in a way that can help George Floyd’s family find peace.
So that’s what I’ll do.
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