George Floyd: Why Justice or Accountability Isn’t Enough
Until we imagine, organise, and create a world that no longer thinks it needs systemic policing, we will not take “a step in the right direction”; we will not see accountability or transformative justice.
Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of all charges against him for the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, including unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Yet, as utter disbelief clouded Chauvin’s face upon hearing the jury’s decision that he would not walk free as many of his colleagues had done before him, we were forced to confront the harsh truth: this is not justice, nor is this accountability. This is merely punishment for an individual for a crime that sits comfortably within a deep-rooted network of violence and oppression. This is merely the state’s measured response to the largest global civil rights movement – a movement that has been built on the backs of Black and Brown protesters, many of whom have since been incarcerated or murdered by this very state.
Minutes before Chauvin’s trial reached a conclusion, police in Columbus, Ohio, released body-cam footage of an officer shooting and killing 16-year-oldMa’Khia Bryant. According to her aunt, Hazel Bryant, Ma’Khia had called 911 for help because a group of “older kids” were reportedly trying to assault her. Instead, she was shot four times by a police officer within the first 15 seconds of the footage. On 11 April, the Minneapolis community mourned once again as 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by an officer just miles from where Chauvin killed George Floyd; Adam Toledo, aged 13, was fatally shot in Chicago on 29 March within 20 seconds of the officer stepping out of his police car.
This is merely punishment for an individual for a crime that sits comfortably within a deep-rooted network of violence and oppression.
As infographics and tweets citing Chauvin’s conviction as “a step in the right direction” emerge across social media, we must remember that the pattern of police violence against Black and Brown people, including children, continues, unencumbered by any tangible or long-term policy changes. Even the reforms proposed under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives on 3rd March 2021,would not have saved George Floyd’s life – and they will certainly not tackle police violence going forward. A force that exists for the sole purpose of enacting racial and economic control cannot be reformed, nor can it be controlled, by the biased system that props it up from within – that encourages the police to act before they think.
Out of 16,000 killings by the police in the US since 2005, only 82 officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter. Derek Chauvin, himself, was accused of using excessive force at least 17 times prior to murdering George Floyd, yet was allowed to remain in the service. The officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her home in Louiseville, Kentucky, may never be arrested – in fact, one of the officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, has received a book deal with Post Hill Press, a Tennessee-based house whose specialities include Christian and conservative books. While incarceration is not an ideal outcome within an abolitionist future, with prison complexes only enacting further violence on marginalised and exploited members of society, it perhaps provides temporary relief within the confines of the current judicial system. However, the communities and families most affected by police violence hardly ever get to experience relief.
We must not lose sight of all that we have collectively learned over the past year about the violence that upholds policing in its current form.
While there is validity in the experiences of those who have found comfort in Chauvin’s conviction, we must not allow ourselves to be placated. We must not lose sight of all that we have collectively learned over the past year about the violence that upholds policing in its current form. The practice of restorative justice teaches us that in order to achieve closure through accountability, the individual or system that is at fault must actively participate; they must be willing to hold a conversation with the victim and seek a mutual, positive way forward. When blood drips from the hands of thousands of police officers – when the system within which these officers are sporadically tried is one that is purely punitive and centres individualistic accusations of guilt, rather than tackling the root causes of inequality and exploitation – restorative justice is not an option.
“[the system] can only dole out violence. It cannot restore. It cannot transform. It cannot hold to account. But it can punish,” said writer Tirhakah Love on Twitter. “…and the thing about punishment is that it does not deal with the cause. It only deals in innocence and guilt, which are individualistic in nature. Cause looks for the root of the thing, which, in this case, would be policing.”
Justice will not be achieved until the violent systems that enabled George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in broad daylight, and the arrests and murders of countless Black and Brown people since – the systems that have allowed the police to brutalise working class communities and protestors throughout history – have been dismantled. The road to a better world will not be paved on punishment for a few “bad apples”, for the system itself is rotten and designed to enact violence. If we are to seek lasting protection for communities of colour, we need abolition, not only in the US but also in other countries, including the UK, where the police force was set up to control and exploit the marginalised.
The road to a better world will not be paved on punishment for a few “bad apples”, for the system itself is rotten and designed to enact violence.
We must continue to take direct action and support the work of grassroots organisations campaigning for community-led support systems and mutual aid networks to make society safer for Black and brown people, so that nobody ever has to be martyred again by politicians searching for speech fodder. Until we imagine, organise, and create a world that no longer thinks it needs systemic policing, we will not take “a step in the right direction”; we will not see accountability or transformative justice. Arundhati Roy wrote: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Well, as we collectively acknowledge that Chauvin’s conviction is the bare minimum, I can hear her breathing. All that’s left is for us to take direct action to make her journey home a little easier, a little faster.
If you would like to learn more about alternatives to policing and the prison system, below is a recommended reading list:
The End of Policing – by Alex S. Vitale
Are Prisons Obsolete? – by Angela Y. Davis
Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition – by Liat Ben-Moshe
Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms – by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law
If They Come in the Morning…: Voices of Resistance – by Angela Y. Davis
We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice – by Mariame Kaba
Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power – by Lola Olufemi
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