It didn’t take long, did it? We had barely five hours to absorb and process the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd before Ma’Khia Bryant was shot four times and killed by a Columbus police officer.
A lot of us wanted the opportunity to celebrate the verdict (convicted on all counts), the aggressive prosecution, and the fact that the “blue wall” showed some cracks. Others simply wanted to breathe a sigh of relief that we avoided an angry and violent reaction to another dehumanizing cop getting off without punishment.
No such luck.
The events of this past Tuesday, and the entire Chauvin trial, in fact, should serve as a harsh reminder that “justice” is far from being served.
Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s Attorney General who took over the prosecution, was masterful and strategic in the way he built and portrayed the case against Chauvin. But none of us should feel confident that this conviction marks the turning point in police reform.
The legal strategy hinged tightly on the argument that Chauvin was a “bad apple” among an otherwise noble group of professionals. The prosecutors went out of their way to make sure the jury understood that it was Chauvin, not policing, that was on trial. This was a great strategy to secure a conviction, but it actually makes the case harder for true police reform.
Bad actors, racists and otherwise, are definitely part of the problem, and they should be identified and rooted out of police departments before they have the chance to kill, injure, or wrongfully arrest people. But an even greater problem is how our society—not just the police officers in it—devalues BIPOC lives, and how it defines the role of the police in what it means to “protect and serve.”
The killing of Ms. Bryant is a stark reminder of where we are on both fronts. When police come upon people fighting, without prior knowledge or understanding of what led to the situation they are encountering, I would hope that they would separate the fighters, deescalate the situation, and then try to resolve the matter. Even though I am very much a dog-loving person, if those same police officers encountered someone being attacked by a dog, I would understand a reaction from them that unleashed violent force on the animal before asking questions.
Which set of circumstances applied to Ma’Khia Bryant?
What the Chauvin trial did not address, and what the Ma’Khia Bryant shooting so quickly reminded us of, is that the culture of policing in America—a culture that is a reflection of our overarching society, not an aberration from it—regards black and brown people as potentially violent and dangerous animals, and police training and the increasingly militaristic rules of engagement that are considered “acceptable practice” are the natural result of that culture.
If we want these outcomes to change, we have to change the culture. And we’re a long way from there.