I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly vindictive person, but when Derek Chauvin was finally sentenced, more than a year after he murdered George Floyd, I started to question myself. That’s because one of my first thoughts was that it wasn’t enough. In fact, I felt strangely flat after the news of the 22.5 year sentence.
As my friend Future Cain says, sometimes you have to sit with yourself, so I did just that and started to unpack some of what I was thinking and feeling.
Let’s start with the fact that George Floyd should never have been killed, and nothing makes up for his murder. And that, just as with Chauvin’s conviction itself, nobody knew whether the subsequent sentence would match the severity of the offence.
I’ll leave you to make your own mind up on that, but just know that there are Black men in prison serving longer sentences for stealing small amounts of money (I’m talking less than $10.) And know that, the US “injustice system” being what it is, Chauvin will probably be out and walking around way earlier than many of us would feel comfortable with.
The other reason the sentencing announcement leaves me feeling flat is that Chauvin is just ONE of the many police officers who have killed Black people. Most have done it with impunity, and continue to do so. Since George Floyd’s murder, hundreds more Black people have died at the hands of the police. So this doesn’t represent justice - and it probably wouldn’t have happened at all but for the courage of Darnella Frazier. (And it’s worth repeating that even with video evidence, Chauvin’s conviction never looked like a sure thing.)
So basically, this doesn’t fix the system that disproportionately targets Black people, and the system is what we have to fix. Sadly, it remains broken.
Yay, Juneteenth, But There’s Work to be Done
Another thing that left me feeling a little flat was the announcement that Juneteenth would be a federal holiday in the US.
I am delighted that Opal Lee, who has been campaigning for this, lived to see it happen. Juneteenth absolutely should be a holiday, as it’s been an important fixture in the African American calendar for more than a century and a half.
But again, it’s not enough. While that was happening, bills that would make systemic, lasting change - such as to voting rights - were being suppressed and undermined.
My sister recently mentioned a Toni Morrison quote:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
The holiday announcement feels like a bit of sleight of hand intended to distract us while white supremacy acts to protect itself by taking away other important freedoms, and ensuring that most of the people who are killing us walk away scot free.
I’m not fooled. Sure, I’ll celebrate the “wins”, but I’ll still pay attention to what’s going on - or NOT going on - behind the scenes. I suggest you do too.
Thanks for reading my perspective. What are your thoughts?
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.