What is justice for George Floyd? We already know what it’s not: It’s not nine minutes and 29 seconds of begging for a life with one knee on its neck. It’s just that the most vulnerable moment of his life doesn’t go viral for millions of people who look like and love him. It is not the assassination of his character in the media and by the very people who killed him and who lived to tell the story.
I can’t deny that my jaw relaxed, my shoulders dropped, and the corners of my lips turned upward at the judge reading, “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.” But the truth is nothing about it, it’s justice. As the world clapped, a young girl from A 16-year-old from Ohio named Ma’Khia Bryant was shot by police in Columbus, and just like that, reality began. And as historian and activist Barbara Ransby pointed out, we can’t forget that this week, the governor of Florida signed a law that would criminalize the same kind of protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, which led to the conviction of former policeman Derek Chauvin. Ransby tweeted Where is the fairness in all of this?
This verdict doesn’t change the callous indifference Chauvin had as Floyd called his mother, described lacking air, and desperately needed a reprieve. Floyd’s Minnesota Police continue to kill, as do others, and new trials are added to the rolls. We deserve so much more.
So what is justice for George Floyd? Last October, justice for George Floyd would celebrate his 47th birthday with his children, girlfriend, siblings and grandchildren. Justice for George Floyd would be a world where the threat of counterfeit bills does not force store workers to dial 911.
In this just world, brute force is not necessary to deal with community disagreements, and the dark is not a threat. It is normal for ordinary people to be trained in spectator intervention and know the people they live and work with, so the idea of calling armed officers to another member of the community is out of the question.
In this just world, if a community mediator was called in, he would be trained in advanced de-escalation tactics and would understand that a $20 bill is not worth losing a life. That person could follow up and ask why Floyd needed a fake and if there was a way for the community to support him. This mediator would never put a knee in the neck of a handcuffed person, a few minutes after their last breath.
In this just world, God forbid that George Floyd was murdered, no one would ask for evidence or play devil’s advocate. A 17-year-old wouldn’t have the weight of the world on her shoulders for filming it. We didn’t want to mince our words with language like “presumed” because we would understand that what her family needed most was honesty.
In this just world, everyone across the country would be invested with responsibility – not protests demanding arrest in order to secure a conviction, hopefully, but real accountability. Counseling and therapy services would be immediately provided for all of Floyd’s loved ones and all street civilians who were held and forced to watch his murder. With this advice, everyone involved would undergo a deep process of unboxing white supremacy that made Chauvin feel he was entitled to Floyd’s breath.
In this just world, it wouldn’t be the kindness of strangers to raise money for Floyd’s family. Reparations for victims of brutality would be a warrant, funded by pension funds.
In this fair world, there wouldn’t be a trial where defense attorneys wonder if Floyd tended to panic with the police or if he rigged his answer. In this world, a former medical examiner would not have suggested in open court that it was Floyd’s heart disease that killed him after being grounded. In this world, we would not look for scapegoats. We would be looking for healing and redress and a way to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
In this world, we would “call back” the police until we could develop something better. And in the process, we would realize that there is so much better. We would respond to the needs of the people and engage in early childhood education and intentional education to disrupt bigotry before it sets in. We would invest in schools, jobs and safety, regardless of the zip code you live in or the color of your skin. We would train and employ unarmed violence interrupters, neighbor dispute mediators, addiction specialists, and more to remedy the damage without making it worse.
Let’s be clear: the whole system is guilty as hell.
In this world, Adam Toledo and Breonna Taylor and Christian Hall and Daunte Wright and George Floyd and Iremamber Sykap and Layleen Polanco and Ma’Khia Bryant and Rayshard Brooks and Sean Monterrosa all would be alive now, preparing to start for a new day, loving each other and being loved. Instead, we mourn them and hope for a piece of justice from the people in fellowship with their murderers.
I’m grateful that George Floyd’s family received what they asked for, but let’s be clear: the whole system is guilty as hell. In the entire trial, this is the most honest statement and we must heed its warning. More officers will do exactly what they were trained to do, and more people will be murdered if we don’t completely dismantle this system. We cannot stop until the death of black people is over. It’s the only justice I’m looking for.
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