Point of View Columns

The Chauvin Verdict – What It Is and What It Is Not

Today Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts for killing George Floyd. This former Minneapolis police officer faces more than a half century of time in prison. In many parts of the country and the world this has been seen as a cause for celebration.

In some very real ways this verdict is a reason for celebration because it is so rare that in America a white policeman is convicted for killing a Black man. It is so rare that when it happens it is a cause for celebration. White police officers in America have been killing Black men with impunity for centuries – so when there is a unicorn of an outlier of a result where justice actually appears, it is a cause for celebration.

It should be pointed out that in the days and hours leading up to the verdict that there was real concern that there would be an acquittal or a mistrial. There was a real concern that even though Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd was viewed around the world, because in America the tradition was that white police officers could kill Black men with impunity.

In many ways it is a damn shame that a slam dunk, open and shut, videotaped murder might not be reason enough to convict a white police officer for killing a Black man. The concept of Black Lives Mattering has barely entered the national consciousness and even a casual student of history knows that there are far too many unreported tragedies at the hands of police that were never recorded and will never be known except by the dead victims and their bereaved families.

It should also be point out that this verdict could be a turning point, or a tipping point as Malcolm Gladwell has termed such opportunities for change. Even as a white supremacist America First Caucus was strangled in its Congressional crib, it is clear that many more Americans have become aware of the pernicious existence of the twin evils of racism and racial disparity throughout this nation.

When the President and Vice President of the United States take note of the conviction of a white police officer for killing a Black man any student of American history knows that this represents a real difference in America. The question remains as to what happens next.

There is already legislation pending in Congress – the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act –  that would provide new guidelines for police departments across the country when it comes to use of force. What cannot be legislated are the hearts and minds of the men and women in American law enforcement. What is not subject to a presidential executive order is the mind set of too many white Americans who are prepared to give the police the benefit of the doubt in virtually every lethal encounter with Black Americans, especially if there is no video record.

It is in fact telling that there was a sigh of relief when Derek Chauvin was convicted, because Black Americans know that verdicts in these kinds of cases have gone the other way – think Sean Bell, Eric Garner and Amadou Diallo for just a few sad and tragic examples. If nearly ten minutes of a video murder and the testimony of the chief of police and a boat load of experts was needed to get a conviction, what happens when the evidence is not as overwhelming?

Will white police officers continue to get the benefit of the doubt? Will Black men and boys have to consider even the most innocent encounter with the police to have the potential for a lethal outcome? Will Black mothers and fathers have to continue to tell their 8-year-old sons and daughters about the special care that they must take if they come in contact with the police? Conversations that white parents simply do not have with their children.

The Chauvin verdict does indeed represent the opportunity for change – but to be clear, it does not represent change itself.

The American justice system got it right this time.

We need for the American justice system to just be right.

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Point of View Columns

Another Week in the Life of America in 2021

April 1, 2021

30,461,748-552,076 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

It is still early in the Biden-Harris administration but it is not too early to inquire as to whether the urgency of the nationwide suppression of the Black vote in America is being sufficiently prioritized within the public policy universe of competing demands including infrastructure, COVID-19, the economy and climate change.

April 2, 2021

30,548,745-553,241 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

As the sad and tragic testimony at the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd ebbs and flows forward there is an overwhelming sense of maddening sadness. Sadness because the testimony to date makes it clear that Mr. Floyd did not have to die and in a normal universe he would probably still be alive to this day.

Maddening because this police-Black man scenario has played out so many times that it seems like well-rehearsed satanic performance art. A Black man has an encounter with the police and for no apparent reason the Black man ends up dead in a situation which would see a white man walk away or be peacefully arrested – and in any event alive.

It is maddeningly sad because we know, we all know, that this will not be the last time that we are witness to this tragic scenario.

And, as a reminder of the madness that is flowing the streets and cities and supermarkets of America, a young Black man tried to crash his car through the barriers that surround the Capitol. After crashing he left his car and attacked two Capitol Hill police officers, killing one and wounding the other before being shot to death.

There appears to be no motive other than the madness that is on display in his social media rants. And while there appears to be no philosophical or political motive, it is undeniable that the atmosphere of madness and violence that hangs over America like some kind of cloud cannot have a salutary effect on people with serious mental health issues.

April 3, 2021

30,610,745-553,241 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

There is a weekend pause in the Chauvin murder trial and it is definitely timely. The repetition of the recitation of the cause of the death of George Floyd is a necessary part of the trial process. However, the enormity of Chauvin’s crime goes beyond murder.

It is total dismissal of the humanity of Mr. Floyd – shared by his police colleagues on the scene – which is difficult to comprehend. Veterinarians and butchers demonstrate more empathy and care than Chauvin and that is what is so hard to understand.

One could actually understand a flash of cruelty – a gun shot or gun shots, for example. But killing someone so slowly and personally – sustained sadism actually –  for over nine minutes reveals a certain kind of pathology that endangers all of society.

Chauvin might be an outlier but he is not alone.

April 4, 2021

30,703,999-554,992 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

Today marks 53 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was killed by some nonentity named James Earl Ray, although how a two-bit crook was able to elude an international manhunt with multiple passports and funds seemingly from out of the sky has never been explained. And at this point probably will never be explained.

Dr. King’s assassination marked a turning point in the struggle for the rights of Black Americans and a recognition that whatever good will might exist in this nation, it was not enough the stem the centuries-old tradition of naked violence in support of white supremacy. His death also sparked insurrections and protests throughout the country, but in the ensuing 53 years there has been grudging progress but systemic change has been resisted virtually everywhere and anywhere.

Still, it was interesting that, even though it was Easter Sunday, there was virtually no mention of the anniversary of the slaying of Dr. King.

And that cannot be a good thing.

April 5, 2021

30,706,129-555,001 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

The promoters of the Big Lie of Voter Fraud, which has served as the faux justification for the raced-based voter suppression assault across America. There seems to be a belief that if a lie is spoken enough times it will somehow be considered the truth.

It is a fact that the Black voters across the country, but particularly in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are directly responsible for the electoral victory of Joe Biden, in the processing dashing the fevered dreams of conservatives and white sup remacists who desperately wished for a second term for 45. And so, in 43 states there are legislative commando raids going on which, while not being able to reverse the results of the 2020 election, will certainly make it incredibly more difficult for Black voters to exercise voting rights and impact an election in the same way.

It is clear that there is a virulent, cancerous segment of white America that is prepared to bring down the temple of democracy if it means holding on to white supremacist minority rights.

These are dangerous times indeed.

April 6, 2021

30,785,734-555,619 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

So now we are learning that Major League Baseball (moving the All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver), Delta and Coca Cola (issuing statements of concern to date) are announcing their displeasure with the voter suppression efforts in Georgia.

It is good to see elements of corporate America publicly recognize the seemingly eternal need for racial justice in this country but it remains what it is that corporate America is going to do? After all, there are 42 other states considering various types of voter regulation that could easily morph into voter suppression.

What is corporate America going to do?

Delta is not going to stop flying to Texas. Coca Cola is not going to suspend sales in Pennsylvania. And Amazon…well Amazon is going to keep being Amazon. So if there is no consequence beyond some rhetorical sniper fire, we can be sure that voter suppression will soon become the de facto law of the land in much of America.

April 7, 2021

30,847,926-556,529 (Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

Hopefully the Matt Gaetz Distraction of the Day will be just that. There is just too much grave and serious issues and tidal waves of perilous change to worry about finding out that one of 45’s most vocal and bellicose supporters is a sleaze bag.

How can that be a surprise when Gaetz idolizes 45, who has taken the concept of sleaze bag to Hall of Fame levels that will be difficult to surpass.

Meanwhile there are actual arguments over whether people should carry proof of vaccination as part of the effort to stem the lethal COVID-19 tide. Once again, we see the argument of personal liberty being juxtaposed against all of us dropping dead. It should not be a hard decision.

History does not reveal this kind of visceral opposition to the smallpox, polio or measles vaccines. So what has changed so that over a half century later, when ostensibly more people know more about science and how vaccines work, that there is this intransigent, indigestible segment of America that will refuse vaccines because (a) it threatens their personal liberty) or (b) there is no real “proof” that vaccines work. Insofar as (a) is concerned, the calculation that personal liberty is more important than the lives of others is stunningly cruel. With respect to (b), it may be that there is simply no arguing with intentional, obstinate and immovable stupid. But it will be hard for the (b) group to argue about anything when they are in an ICU somewhere

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Point of View Columns

In the Spirit of Janus – Looking Forward and Looking Backward

The Romans worshipped the god Janus. A quirky deity who had the uncanny ability to look forward and backwards at the same time – which is where we get the name for the first month of every year.

And it would seem that if there was ever a time to look forward and backwards at the same time it is in the last days of December 2020.

Looking backwards we see a year that is literally crammed with tragedy, the bizarre and the lethal and the stupid.

Looking forwards we see the real possibility that we may end up looking at the days of 2020 as the good old days. And those words make the blood run cold because they could be true.

The human species evolved by having a great capacity to learn, remember and innovate – to create that which had not been seen. That capacity has resulted in wondrous developments, inventions and development of civilizations that could not have been imagined by our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.

As a species we have advanced with the utilization of genius paired with a curious streak of self-destructiveness. There seem to be no limits to our collective ability to create and destroy.

And that pairing has never been more clear than in the United States during this past year.

Systemic racism is an integral part of the American DNA, even before there was a United States of America. This past year put on display the most horrific aspect of that racism with the highly publicized police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many more and now, Andre Hill – all unarmed Black people who were executed because they were Black.

There have been protests and riots and more protests and legislative proposals, but all the while it is clear to virtually every Black American that any encounter with a white police officer could result in a fatal outcome. It is sad but true that there will be more such deaths as we witnessed the U.S. Department of Justice refusing to prosecute Cleveland police officers for the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice six years ago. His destiny with death was due to his playing with a toy gun in a playground…..and being Black.

And if it is really necessary to once more examine the seamy underside of American race justice and white privilege we need look no further than the Nashville Christmas bombing. The girlfriend of the (white) suspect called the local police over one year ago to report that he was making bombs in his RV in the backyard. The police called the (white) suspect several times but he did not return the calls. And that was the end of the story until Christmas day 2020.

It is clear to anyone with a pulse that if a fact-challenged call to the police regarding a large drug sale involving Black suspects that warrant or no warrant (or in the case of Breonna Taylor a falsified warrant) that the police would not have been deterred by the fact that their calls had not been returned.

There are too many examples in the past, and sadly in the future, to contemplate. What is known is that people have been known to change. Societies have been known to change. And during 2020 there appeared to be a glimmer of flickering hope that the reality of systemic racism might change.

After all Confederate statues were removed and acknowledgement of racist behavior with a commitment to change emanated from major sports leagues, corporate America and binders full of celebrities. It would seem that that for a brief shining moment that America was taking a page from South Africa which used the vehicle of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expose and expunge key aspects of the racist past of that country.

And then 73 million overwhelmingly white Americans voted for Donald Trump. He of the “very good people on both sides”.

And now it remains to be seen if this country can actually move forward or remain mired in the past until a demographic tsunami imposes change. We already see the resistance to that impending demographic reality materializing in the form of more and greater voter suppression tactics and we are sure to be witness to this struggle continuing for decades to come.

Nevertheless, one other evolutionary inheritance that we humans possess is hope. It is the articulation of hope, the belief in hope and the actualization of hope that has fueled the advance of the species.

It may be that now, perhaps more than ever, hope will be the saving grace of the species, not only in America but around the world.

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