As we go to press this week, the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has gone to the jury, and again we are in limbo, not knowing what will happen next.
Whatever the jury’s decision, it will never restore the life of George Floyd, and give him back to his loved ones who testified in his trial. It will never erase the trauma experienced by millions of Americans who watched his death, over and over, in horrific videos, much less ease the suffering of those who stood on that street corner of Minneapolis in real-time, taping it with their phones and trying to convince Chauvin to get off of Floyd, to let him breathe.
The defense for Chauvin has attempted throughout the trial to convince the jury that they didn’t see what was plain in the videos: Chauvin cruelly snuffed out George Floyd’s life in broad daylight, in public.
Rather, the defense suggested it was the crowd, trying to save his life, that actually contributed to his death. It was Floyd’s own heart condition, that fact that there were drugs in his system — no matter that absent of these things, Chauvin’s actions, for that length of time, would have killed most people. All these arguments served to do was dehumanize Floyd all over again.
The only way justice can be served in this case is by deterring another crime like this from happening, ever again. But we have the heavy weight of history on top of us.
Just last week came horrific new videos of police violence.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old, was shot to death after being stopped for expired tabs by an officer who said she mistook her gun for her taser.
Caron Nazario, a uniformed Army medic, was verbally abused, pepper-sprayed, handcuffed and held at gunpoint by Windsor, Virginia police officers. The officers targeted Nazario for driving without a license plate — not noticing that his brand-new car had a temporary license clearly posted on the back windshield.
Then last week, another video surfaced that showed the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo — a child lost on the mean streets of Chicago, who was sentenced to death in an instant when he should have been saved instead.
At Chauvin’s trial, witness after witness for the prosecution testified that Chauvin had acted in violation of his training as a police officer, using excessive force that resulted in Floyd’s death. But lethal force is all too common in our country.
Since 2015, The Washington Post has maintained a database detailing all fatal shootings by police in the United States — about 1,000 per year. Black people account for 40 percent of all unarmed Americans who die this way — despite the fact that Black people make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
We are grateful for the work of local artist West McLean, who has memorialized the lives of civil rights icons and Black Americans who have died in recent years during encounters with the police. We are dismayed that one of his portraits, in a display of the Vashon Remembrance Project at Vashon Center for the Arts, was recently vandalized. McLean has vowed to up the output of his work and create new paintings for the project. Sadly, he has no shortage of subjects.
We hope that all islanders see them for what they are: a reminder of the rich and complex lives of ordinary people who should never have died such violent and senseless deaths. Their loss is our country’s loss and deep shame.
Policing must be reformed in our nation.