Accountability not Justice: Fighting the Greater Fight

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By Laila Trii
Published May 10, 2021

The Verdict 
On May 25th, 2020, former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck until Floyd’s final breath was taken. A teenage girl who was a witness to the horrific killing, showed that Chauvin was kneeling on the neck of Floyd, for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds as Floyd pleaded for his life and bystanders tried to intervene. Floyd repeated, “I can’t breathe,” more than twenty times during the brutal encounter. The video, which was played by many over the past year, brought about a huge and powerful movement. It stirred millions of people around the world to gather for mass protests, chanting “Black lives matter” and challenging the country to finally bring justice to the lives lost to police brutality and the racism embedded within our policing system. Derek Chauvin was found guilty of George Floyd’s murder on April 20th, 2021. Chauvin has been convicted on all charges in the death of George Floyd. Chauvin faces up to forty years in prison for second-degree murder, up to twenty-five years for third-degree murder, and up to ten years for second-degree manslaughter. President Biden spoke about the verdict in a nationwide address at the White House and called it a “too rare” step to deliver “basic accountability” for Black Americans.  

The Reaction
Millions of people all around the world gathered around their televisions, watching the trial and anxiously waiting for the verdict. After the verdict was announced, many took to social media to share their relief and satisfaction. While many felt like justice for Floyd had been served, others shared that this is a small step along the path to fighting systemic racism within our country. In an interview with Don Lemon for CNN, Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd alongside the Floyd family attorney, Benjamin Crump, shared his feelings about the verdict candidly. Philonise Floyd said the guilty verdict in the trial was ‘so much of a relief’ after spending many nights awake and concerned about the outcome of the case. He shared that, "Justice for George, it means freedom for all. The world has sparked and lit up with a blaze tonight. And it's a celebration. Business can be taken care of tomorrow, but it's a celebration today." In a CNN poll conducted by the SSRS, more than three-quarters of Americans say they are satisfied with the guilty verdict in the trial and only sixteen percent are not satisfied with the outcome. Additionally, the poll showed that fifty-three percent of Americans believe that policing in America today needs major changes or a complete overhaul. In contrast, fourteen percent say policing works pretty well as it is working now and thirty-two percent say it needs minor changes. Among the Black Americans who participated in the poll, eighty-two percent say policing needs major changes or a complete overhaul.

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Steps Moving Forward
One day after a jury had convicted Chauvin on multiple murder charges, the U.S. Justice Department has announced that they are launching an investigation into possible patterns of discrimination and excessive force within the department. Attorney General Merrick Garland publicly stated, “Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.” He added that, “justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive and sometimes never comes. The DOJ will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under the law.” It is said that the investigation will look at the use of excessive force, including during protests, and examine the Minneapolis Police Department's accountability systems. 

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ABC News
Attorney General Merrick Garland announcing the investigation in front of reporters on April 21st.

Jared Fishman, a former federal civil rights prosecutor, recognized the announcement as ‘hugely significant’ and said that it could mean that the Justice Department would once again utilize its impactful legal muscle to try to force police reforms. Fishman, who is now running the Justice Innovation Lab and is helping to implement reform within prosecutors' offices, publicly stated,“It’s not enough to call out a department for unconstitutional practices. The next step is helping them fix it”, he continued on saying, “I hope the [Biden] administration is willing to put their money where their mouths are, because departments are not going to be able to correct the constitutional problems on their own”. Many share the sentiments of Fishman and believe that this is a step in the right direction. Others shared through social media that they feel that the verdict and investigation are something to celebrate but not to settle for. Furthermore, the fight for equity goes so much deeper than this. Our system isn’t broken, instead, it is working exactly how it is designed to. The foundation for many systems within American society is white supremacy. No number of investigations into police departments will do the job of dismantling white supremacy and rebuilding our systems completely. A new and just system should be built where no more lives have to be lost and where each person is given the respect and opportunities they deserve. People must continue to fight the greater fight and recognize the many systems and structures within our world that uphold and promote white supremacy and ultimately destroy them. 

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