I was afraid to hope for a conviction. Yes, the world had seen Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd, but we’ve seen the legal system not believe its own eyes before.
Is it any wonder I was afraid to put too much faith in this system – the same one that enslaved my forbears, that forbade their right to vote, that shut them out of neighborhoods, and that now imprisons their descendants at disproportionate rates without remorse?
Still, when the conviction was announced, I felt a sort of happy relief as I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. The feeling of relief didn’t last long. As news of the verdict sank in, an emptiness spread through my chest. That emptiness soon filled with anger.
I had wanted the conviction to feel like a victory, like something to celebrate. But celebration seemed the wrong way to bookend a chapter that began with a man begging for his life as a crowd of people cried out for his relief, a phone recorded the truth, and the entire world looked on in horror. I wondered: Would Black lives always be worth so little that we are expected to elate over a verdict for a crime the whole world witnessed?
Was it really relief that I felt? Or was I letting out a long-held breath only to ready myself for more breath-holding as we hear news of another death and another trial in days, weeks, and years to come?
And what about the people whose deaths weren’t caught on video – are their families breathing a sigh of relief or are they holding their breath for a guilty verdict that will never arrive?
In times like this, it’s tempting to think of how far we’ve come, to look for specks of light in this night that we are in. It’s a way of surviving. Sometimes it’s a way to avoid the truth that is in front of us. I used to be able to do this with ease. I’d think, I am free. I can vote. I can marry whomever I want. We’ve had a Black president! And I can. And we did.
But I’m not content to just compare where Black people are now to where Black people were “back then” in some sepia-toned time when killing Black people with impunity was celebrated with picnics. After all, if kidnapping, enslavement, and lynching at the hands of racist domestic terrorists represent our low point, our country had nearly nowhere to go but up.
So, I’m comparing where Black people are now to where white people are now. I’m comparing the rights we are allowed to exercise with those guaranteed in a Constitution that, at our country’s founding, didn’t envision people like me as fully human.
And in that comparison, it is difficult to feel hope.
We still live in a country where black high school athletes can’t kneel to protest police brutality without being called epithets. We still live in a country where some white kids think it’s hilarious to host a virtual slave auction of their black peers. We still live in a country where your race is the best predictor of how close you live to toxic waste, and where Black people are 75 percent more likely to live near hazardous waste facilities. We still live in a country that blames Black people for the health problems they incur in racially and physically toxic environments and where their needs are too frequently neglected in a medical system with well-meaning doctors that gaslight their symptoms and question their pain.
I could go on, but I’ll end with this: We still live in a country too frightened to reckon with the racist foundations on which it was built and on which it still feeds, where my children will learn – unconsciously, as I did – how to shrink themselves to make white people feel safer, and where we are so starved for justice that we’re tossed the crumbs of the Chauvin conviction and are expected to feel full.
But I want more than crumbs. I want more than a conviction – I want revelation and reform. I want truth and I want reconciliation. I don’t want to just survive.
I want to breathe. I want to hope. I want to thrive.
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