Friday September 24, 2021

Justice for Black Americans

On April 20, a 12-person jury in Minneapolis gave its verdict in the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin. The jury rendered a guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder of George Floyd.

Almost a year ago, the entire world had witnessed the harrowing video of the killing of Floyd by officer Chauvin when he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. The reason this killing came to light was because a teenage girl who happened to be passing by, stopped and recorded the entire spectacle.

With this guilty verdict the country felt a sigh of relief. There was fear that the killing of yet another unarmed Black man would go unpunished. Such an outcome would have caused a violent uprising across America.

While the right-wing media and politicians have been quick to condemn street violence that has sometimes ensued in the wake of killings by police, they continue to defend police behavior. The fact is that the killings of unarmed Black men and women have largely gone unpunished by the US legal system.

The guilty verdict against officer Chauvin, witnessed by the whole world, was the exception rather than the rule. Killing of civilians by the police, even unarmed civilians, is an everyday occurrence in America. The Chicago Tribune reported that in the 24 hours following the Chauvin verdict, at least six people were shot dead by police in different parts of the country. The law usually gives great latitude to the police in dealing with the situations into which they are drawn. Too many times police shoot first and ask questions later, particularly when dealing with people of color.

There have been instances when the police have shot and killed a person, usually a Black person, within seconds of arriving at a scene, only to realize later that the victim posed no threat to anyone. A 12-year-old Black boy Tamer Rice, who was playing with a toy gun was killed by a policeman within two seconds of arriving at the scene. Police in the US often make the worst possible assumptions when confronted with a Black person. They have killed innocent Blacks who were sleeping in their own homes, or simply watching television sitting on a couch. Too many times a simple traffic stop by the police ends up with a dead Black person.

While there has been a sigh of relief following the Chauvin verdict, this can hardly be a cause for satisfaction. There is something fundamentally wrong in how policing is done in America. Many police departments have long histories of mistreating Black citizens. During the Obama administration several of these police departments were put on notice by the Justice Department with orders to review their procedures. This was brought to an end in the Republican administration that followed.

In fact, there is a wide divide in perception of policing among Democrats and Republicans. While only 10 percent of Democrats believe the police treat people of all races equally, 64 percent of Republicans feel policing is not biased.

In the aftermath of the Floyd killing, citizens of all races came out in protest and a slogan was raised to ‘defund the police’. And ‘Black Lives Matter’ resonated across the world. While eliminating all police cannot be a practical option, one can also not ignore decades-long injustice.

Sadly, four centuries after the first slave ships from Africa docked on the shores of the American continent, the struggle for justice for their descendants continues. Long after slavery was legally abolished, they continued to face legally sanctioned prejudice, even violence. It is time to extend the guarantees of the US constitution to all its Black citizens.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.