George Floyd and we the people

Mawish Moulvi

The writer is a lawyer and journalist.

Almost a year after the brutal murder of African American George Floyd, racial justice has finally been served in the world’s most self-exalted democracy. Caucasian police officer Derek Chauvin who tackled Floyd, suffocating him to death during an attempt to arrest, was found guilty on all three criminal charges: third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter. USA’s ethnic minorities sighed in relief as President Biden termed the verdict ‘a giant step forward’ in the battle against racism and police brutality.

George Floyd was seen as a threat to society by Officer Chauvin because of his colour- the inherently violent shade. Slavery was abolished in 1865 by the US Constitution but the superior master mindset still thrives today. And so for 8 minutes 46 seconds a white police officer held his knee pressed against a black man’s neck as he moaned: ‘I can’t breathe’. ­­About 3 minutes later Floyd died pinned against the floor. Chauvin’s brutal attempt to arrest a man for being black sparked protests across America and beyond.

Pain and anger at the injustice was felt across the global. As thousands marched to Washington, more gathered in London’s Parliament Square and even in Sydney, all demanding justice. With global eyes on the USA to prove Black Lives Matter, the verdict in State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin- although historic- was not serendipitous. Given that Floyd’s entire torment was captured on video, it is rational to presume a straight conviction. However, the history of police brutality against black men in American states proves otherwise.

Almost thirty years ago, a video exposed four white police officers’ brutal ‘attempt to arrest’ African American Rodney King. The unarmed activist was seen on his knees being beaten 53 to 56 times using a baton. Despite the compelling video evidence, the defence succeeded in getting a jury to rule the excessive force and assault against Rodney King as an act of self-defense. The same pattern of failure to indict or refusal to convict was witnessed in the later cases of Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and even twelve-year-old Tamir Rice.

The American legal system perceives the black man as a violent animal to be tamed- punch him, hit him, choke him. Beat the beast! Civilize him, that criminal, is the customary reaction. So what finally changed this year? What lead to George Floyd’s posthumous win?

In 2014, following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, a poll by ABC revealed that 43% Americans felt the killings were part of a broader problem in the treatment of African Americans by police. Following the murder of George Floyd, the same poll was conducted again and this time it appeared 74% Americans believed the incident reflected a larger issue at hand. Over the years the people had become both more aware and engaged with the problem of racial discrimination.

It was no longer possible for ordinary citizens to put down the paper and distance themselves from the police brutality hounding people of color in their country, because Geroge Floyd’s face would appear again and again on TV, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snap Chat, Tik Tok. And he would keep repeating: ‘I can’t breathe’. The demand for justice gathered momentum with sustained, widespread and systematic protests. Participants increasingly became racially diverse. The brown, the yellow, the white all sought an end to police brutally against people of colour. And the system was compelled to change.

We live in age where the power to influence hundreds and thousands of others lies with ordinary people at the click of a button. Millions today are connected courtesy of social media platforms. Protests in solidarity with George Floyd spanned across almost 50 countries and were termed as some of the largest in US and global history. Millions of dollars were raised for advocacy. Politicians were compelled to rethink their alliances. The verdict in State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin was not just a legal win, but a victory of the people by the people.

Upon the verdict’s announcement, Nancy Pelosi very conveniently stated: “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.” Yet, the original police report called Floyd’s murder a ‘medical incident’. A verdict in favor of George Floyd was not the result of an equitable justice system.  It was the people that compelled the legal system to be just. Ultimately, we the people are in charge of how our society is governed. Let not those in positions of power sway us into thinking otherwise.