A person can get used to anything, after a while. Wearing a face mask around other people. Active shooter drills in middle schools.
Last summer, after what is now legally George Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis stores remained boarded up for weeks as people’s rage simmered in the streets. Last week, during the trial of Floyd’s killer, former officer Derek Chauvin, police shot and killed Daunte Wright in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The boards immediately regenerated over stores again. Employees and owners scrambled to get their storefronts covered before nightfall once the news broke.
They wouldn’t be caught off guard again.
On the ground in Minneapolis, it had the feel of a routine. A choreographed dance. Break glass in case of emergency, but the opposite of that: When police in this city needlessly kill another unarmed Black man, we batten down the hatches.
A person can get used to anything. Even the idea that agents of the state will, as a matter of course, dispense extrajudicial executions, and do so at a disproportionately high rate to Black men and women.
At this point, merely wanting accountability is not much better than remaining indifferent or backing the blue. Chauvin’s guilty verdict is a positive result only in its absence of total travesty. It won’t bring Floyd back to life. It won’t convict all the police officers acquitted on qualified immunity in the past. And it most certainly didn’t prevent 16-year old Ma’Khia Bryant from being shot by police in Columbus, Ohio just as the Chauvin verdict was delivered on Tuesday evening.
This verdict is not the end to any of that, but it holds the potential for a new beginning.
Nothing has changed yet. Floyd’s slow death still needed to be captured on film in order to hold Chauvin accountable. How fortunate that the case didn’t rely merely on any of Chauvin’s colleagues’ word—especially after last summer’s protests revealed, for the whole world, video evidence of how often police officers lie in order to justify force. (Hell, just look at how Chauvin’s colleagues framed Floyd’s killing initially, before a massive public outcry forced their hand.)
And even with video evidence, it was still sadly a half-surprise that the jury delivered a guilty verdict. One thing people generally have not had to get used to yet is accountability. Even after this outcome, few will automatically expect it again next time.
Rather than bend the world toward rightness, it’s much easier to bend one’s self toward the world’s wrongness. Feel the pain and go on with your day. Over the past year, though, despite all the vilification of Black Lives Matter, more and more people have become radicalized. The conversation about defunding, and perhaps abolishing, the police is gaining participants, even if it hasn’t yet gained traction. The longer it goes on, the more people will abandon knee-jerk reactions and perhaps listen to those who have been working toward defunding and abolishing the police for years.
One thing people might have forgotten about George Floyd’s death is that it happened the very same day a white woman in Central Park called the police on a birdwatcher, warning him, “I’m going to tell [the police] there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
If this sinister bit of intimidation was a wake-up call for some about how police in America are understood to function, Floyd’s death later that day was a get-dressed call, a go-outside call, and a call to fight systemic racism and oppression.
Americans are now used to temporarily wearing face masks. We’re used to shooter drills in middle schools. And for many, many years, Black Americans have been used to the disproportionately high chance that they won’t survive a routine traffic stop. (And that certain kinds of traffic stops are not exactly routine for all drivers.) Anyone only lately coming to understand this reality has a choice: Get used to it, too, or become radicalized against it. A late beginning is still a beginning, and it’s the only path toward changing our current reality. Because a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin doesn’t mean as much when there are countless battalions of other Derek Chauvins out there, who have gotten quite used to being protected.