Prior to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, the country had already shouldered a global pandemic, a collapsing economy and was on the cusp of boiling over from grief over the spirit of a nation that was supposed to be a source of hope. Following their deaths, the nation was launched into, arguably, its greatest push for racial justice in the wake of a gross violation of human rights. It seemed that at the moment, we took the anguish that was on the verge of spilling over and metastasized it into energy that motivated calls to action from public officials and calls to address the deep-rooted systemic violence that has intersected so many facets of American life. Over the next few months, there were laws written, outpouring support, policies– so why did it seem to stop?
It is not to say that all progress towards racial equity has ended, but every setback seems to be a discouraging reminder that there will always be work to do. The surge of activism in the summer of 2020 allowed supporters to shoulder each other’s grief, uplift one another and voice concerns, but at the same time, grassroots activists were becoming louder and public officials had no reply. The most recent evidence? The trial of Derek Chauvin.
The trial of the Minneapolis police officer who killed Geroge Floyd last summer started on Monday, and unfortunately, justice, a principle that should be absolute and unencumbered by judicial malfeasance, seems farced and fickle. It is ridiculous that a defense can be made for a blatant disregard for human rights and it’s ridiculous that even after videos, professional testimony and eyewitness descriptions, justice could still be a question. Unfortunately, I cannot in 100% confidence say that George Floyd will be brought to justice and it breaks my heart. I think at some point, public officials will be forced to reckon with the structural violence ingrained into our criminal justice system, the racism woven into the fabric of the flag and the fact that a fundamental principle of democracy was put into question at their hands. It was always time to listen; it was always time to act; that did not start when Floyd and Taylor died. At the present moment, however, there has to be accountability for not just Derek Chauvin, but for every officer that has abused and terrorized their position; there has to be justice for George Floyd and every person who has unjustly died at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.
A year ago, “I can’t breathe” was the rallying cry behind which we harbored our discontent and frustration. Today, it is a reminder of the work still left to do.