By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)
I admit to a strange kind of fiery pessimism overwhelming my typically mild-mannered, if not contemplative, demeanor Saturday afternoon as I was embracing the idea of joining thousands of marchers in protest of George Floyd’s death and a still-unchanged system marred by years of police brutality toward black Americans.
If seeing another black person fall victim to senseless violence — just weeks after the shooting deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — did not soften, and make more amenable, the collective heart of our country toward its need for unrelenting equality, or provoke substantial police reform and more stringent prosecution for antagonists in law enforcement, what exactly would yet more protests accomplish?
That style of retaliation had worn thin, I thought.
But, later that night and in the days that followed, I bore witness to protests that spread wider than could be imagined — from the streets of Chicago and New York to those of Paris, France and Sydney, Australia, by people from all walks of life marching peacefully while carrying signs that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “I CAN’T BREATHE” and “STOP KILLING US” and chanting “Say his name — George Floyd!,” “Say her name — Breonna Taylor!” and “No justice, no peace!”
I saw Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson forfeit his helmet and baton to march in lock-step with protesters in Michigan, and two players, Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi, of Bundesliga, a professional soccer league in Germany, proudly unveil pre-written messages of “Justice for George Floyd” on their undershirts while celebrating goals.
I read of California governor Gavin Newsom imploring white America to take more ownership of, and responsibility for, the black community, and the unofficial greatest player in the history of the National Basketball Association, Michael Jordan — as tight-lipped in addressing socio-political issues off the court as he was a boisterous trash talker on it throughout his career — endorse systemic change and demand accountability in an 150+ word statement. I watched videos that captured the essence of humanity as people, bound by activism and neighborhood pride, worked together to erase the grimy footprint of opportunistic looters and would-be rioters in the predominantly black communities of Bronzeville, Englewood, South Shore, and Chatham.
And Wednesday, after an enormous groundswell of complaints, petitions and public outrage, Derek Chauvin’s initial charge of third-degree murder was elevated to a second-degree charge, with the other three now-former Minneapolis police officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — who were involved in Floyd’s death on May 25 also facing charges of aiding and abetting murder.
All four men face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, according to criminal complaints, and Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for approximately nine minutes while Lane and Keung helped pin his lower body to the ground, still faces his initial third-degree and manslaughter charges, according to an amended complaint.
While these latest developments are encouraging, justice can only truly be measured in the convictions of those who do wrong. Such a thing is a respectable first step toward tangible change by an eventual established precedent of intolerance for the perpetuation of a system that has led to black Americans being shot and killed by police more than twice the rate as white Americans.
Anything short of Chauvin, Thao, Kueng, and Lane being prosecuted to the full extent of the law is sure to produce more civil unrest, continued judiciary mistrust and explosive responses to what would be considered further damning evidence of the lack of compassion and concern for black America.
Perhaps no amount of refashioning can entirely wipe clean the fabric of a country soaked in the blood, fear and presumed guilt of countless innocent Black lives. But I remain resolute in my hope that with continued public awareness, improved vetting of elected officials, and increased voter turnout at the state and local levels, we can begin to stitch new and decent threads into the American tapestry.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago