Will anything change after the George Floyd verdict?
- Credit: Getty Images
What will happen to police reform in America following the verdict over George Floyd?
Another day. Another African American man faced the police. This time it was 20-year-old Daunte Wright, driving his car through Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Wright was pulled over by cops and a female officer shot him dead. It happened 10 miles away from where, on Tuesday, former cop Derek Chauvin would be found guilty of killing George Floyd.
The death of George Floyd promoted international outrage and a movement against police brutality, and more. It also prompted a trial – rarities in cases involving the police.
Chauvin declined to give evidence in his own defence, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. This was something that I had predicted he would do, and his best choice because no one would like the guy if he took the stand. The defence did the best they could and the prosecution’s dismantling of it was largely a clinic in how to make a defendant look very bad.
But it’s not easy to convict a cop. And cops are not in the habit of testifying against each other. But they did this time.
Derek Chauvin in the video the entire world has seen, looked bent on intent. Now he is going to prison for a very long time.
But there is still the matter of the police in general and police in regards to African American men in particular. President Biden is working to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aimed at combating police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias. It passed on party lines in the house and now heads for the senate, now evenly split with the vice president as a Democrat tie-breaker.
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But if Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia decides to play hardball again and slow things down, that could be the end of all of that.
Meanwhile, The Talk will continue.
Every little guy of African descent gets The Talk from his dad, and it goes something like this:
1) “If the police pull you over, put your hands on the wheel where he can see them. Do not go into your pockets searching for your ID or your police badge or whatever else will explain you. Keep your hands on that wheel and look straight ahead.”
2) “Do not talk back. Do not explain yourself. Answer questions yes or no. Again: keep your hands on the wheel and visible. Your life depends on remembering this one.”
3) “If you’re told to get out of the car, you’re in trouble.”
The Talk is important, because making a move determined as dodgy could get you a starring role in the police line-up, along with multiple bruises. That’s the best outcome. The worst outcome is the worst outcome. The outcome George Floyd got.
Black men in America have systematically been what is politely called ‘overpoliced’. There are almost 18,000 police forces in the US, all under local government control. There is no central control.
Some forces have the ethos of what is called order maintenance. That involves anything from breaking up a fistfight to dealing with an annoying dog. A police force of service. The other ethos is defence, concentrating on murder and robbery, etc. A police force of control.
But under the 1033 programme, which allowed the US defense department to transfer some of its surplus heavy equipment to local police, police everywhere have become more military. You can be confronted with police in full body armour even if you are just pulled over for a traffic stop.
And the fact is that, because policing is local, many Americans do not have a uniform response to what to do with the police.
Defunding the police is a good way not to campaign this summer. Joe Biden has made it clear he is for reform, not abolition.
Biden was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1972. Barely old enough to run but qualified by the time that he was sworn in, he faced tragedy when his then-wife and daughter were killed by a motorist and his two boys severely injured. That was also the year of Wattstax, a benefit concert organized by the premier soul label of the time, Stax Records, to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 uprisings in the African American community of Watts in Los Angeles. The uprisings were known as The Watts Riots.
The riots began as a result of a saga that we African Americans and Latinos can recite in our sleep:
African American man pulled over for a driving offence. Police back-up called as the cop put the African American man under arrest, this time for failing a sobriety test. The community gets involved and it all kicks off.
What kicks off is the reaction of decades of systematic police abuse in LA, and a 46-square-mile swathe of Los Angeles was transformed into a combat zone during the following six days.
Many of the artists on the Stax label and also at Wattstax were the ones that we listened to at home and who gave message and comfort: The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Issac Hayes.
But even they could not make possible in 1972 what Biden appeared to do with his own tragedy, a conduit through which to come to grips with sorrow and pain.
The Republican Party is aiming to take back the House of Representatives at the midterms at the end of next year, and their sights are set on what they perceive as the enemies of the police.
But in Joe Biden they have an opponent who is a seasoned politician He knows that if you are not in power, you cannot make change.
And yet there is that video of 13-year-old Adam Toledo of Chicago, who appears to be holding his hands up the split second before he is fatally shot in the chest by an officer responding to what is called a “gun alert”.
America is the country where a boy of colour, barely out of childhood, knows how to respond to the police: you surrender as soon as possible.
The Staple Singers performed at Wattstax and sang their hit song that became an anthem: Respect Yourself. Its lyrics say: “If you’re walking ‘round/ Thinkin’ that the world/ Owes you something/ ‘Cause you’re here/ You’re goin’ out/ The world backwards/ Like you did/ When you first come here/ Respect yourself!”
It will take more than self-respect; more than a guilty verdict against one cop to get America to face its traditional manner in regards to people of colour: whether man; woman or child; able or disabled; rich or poor; young or old:
Go in hard.
And it doesn’t matter what you do after that.
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