George Floyd’s death sparked a worldwide wave of protests against racism and police brutality. But now that a former police officer has been found guilty of his murder in the United States, what effect will this case have?
The verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing, was viewed Tuesday as exceptional even by US President Joe Biden.
In a country where police officers are rarely convicted of murder, the popular jury found Chauvin guilty of all three counts of murder he faced for his action as a uniformed man on May 25.
“We are in an interregnum, a kind of turning point,” says Eddie Glaude, president of the department of African American studies at Princeton University, in an interview with BBC Mundo.
And he warns that “of course a moment like this can be very dangerous.”
What follows is an edited synthesis of the telephone dialogue with this renowned intellectual, author of books such as “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul”:
What is the historical significance of this verdict for the US?
It is a case where the court system actually treated the life of a black victim as if it mattered. This is, a black victim at the hands of the police.
Therefore, it indicates in some way the possibility of a substantial change, of a change in the form of police surveillance in the country. But that remains to be seen.
Did you expect a guilty verdict on all charges for Derek Chauvin?
He wasn’t sure, honestly. He did not know what the court was going to do.
We have a long history of these types of cases where the police are not held accountable. So there was a kind of skepticism about what the court would do.
He was actually very, very nervous and anxious about what was going to happen.
And what is your feeling now?
A simultaneous feeling of tiredness and worry. We are in an interregnum, a kind of turning point. And whenever you are in these kinds of moments of transition, it is a moment of crisis and possibility. Of course, such a moment can be very dangerous.
So it’s relief, exhaustion, and anxiety.
Why are you worried and think this may be a very dangerous time?
Because the country is dealing with its identity, it is dealing with cultural changes, demographic changes.
There was all this preparation for possible violence from protesters if there was a not guilty verdict.
But there was really little to no conversation about what the police response would be if there was a guilty verdict.
We know we have a deep police crisis in this country. And one of them has just been convicted of all three charges. So I’m nervous for our communities.
To make this clear, do you think there could be an adverse reaction from the police to this verdict?
I do not know. You can see slowdowns… I don’t know how the police unions are going to respond.
I am sure that there will be talk of hesitations around police surveillance, there could be work stoppages. Who knows?
What we do know is that one of their own has been held accountable. And it’s not that that verdict is suddenly going to change the systemic problems with the police in the country.
So can you imagine what communities that are over-watched and under-protected will feel right now?
So I’m worried, and I’m not predicting anything. I am only expressing a concern, because this case is only one instance, it is an inaugural moment. But there has to be continuous systemic change. And that is going to be expensive.
Do you see the Biden administration in favor of that change right now? Before the verdict, the president himself said that the evidence in the trial was overwhelming …
Yes, I mean, President Biden has expressed his commitment to the George Floyd Police Justice Bill. And that’s like a beginning, a kind of floor to change the nature of the police in the country.
We have to change the kind of fundamentals of how we view certain kinds of communities. And we have to change, from my point of view, the framing of the law to have a much stronger conversation about safety and security. All communities deserve to be safe, but it is not just about incarceration, about the potential use of lethal force by the police.
Then we will hear what the president has to say after the verdict (Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted shortly before Biden greeted the verdict, noted that an “extraordinary convergence of factors” was required for it, and promised to fight for racial justice).
However, they will pressure you. He will be pressured by activism on the ground, because this will not stop.
You say that it remains to be seen what will be the consequences or the importance of this judgment from a historical point of view …
The importance and consequences of the trial will be confirmed over time. It depends on what we do now to move forward.
Justice is a practice, not an end. The case has been resolved today, but we have a lot more work to do.
Recent history shows that despite the outrage that people may have, few police officers who cause deaths are convicted in this country. Why is this a rare case in that sense?
I think this is a turning point: nine minutes and 46 seconds, everyone was at home due to covid-19, watching it on TV over and over again …
There’s that collective sense of vulnerability, as people were dealing with a pandemic, with their own death. And the tests were overwhelming. It was not simply a murder, but a public lynching that was seen over and over again in America.
It happened at a time when the country is changing and in transition. So I think it was a confluence of forces that made this particular event, this particular moment, as powerful as it was potentially transformative.
What next steps would you expect?
I think the immediate step is to pass legislation that removes qualified immunity, that begins to allow us to hold the police accountable, to implement uniform practices of use of force.
But again, that’s the floor. We have to start talking about decriminalization. In the US you can sneeze and break a law.
So we have to see how to decrease the moments of contact between ordinary people and the police, because the police have the legitimate use of lethal force. Therefore, every encounter with the police carries the potential of a lethal force.
We have to start looking at the code and talking about decriminalization, so that those traffic stops don’t end up the way they did.
We must also begin to think about broad funding for social services within communities that are deprived of resources.
Again, this is just the beginning of a much more intense conversation about policing, without the assumption that it has somehow propped up policing in the country for the last 40 or 50 years.
The Reagan era is dead, the policing that grew out of that period is now on its deathbed, so we must see what will replace it.
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