Over the weekend, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters joined protesters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Saturday for the seventh night of demonstrations following the death of Daunte Wright. She encouraged protesters in Minnesota to “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if they don’t see a guilty verdict returned in the Derek Chauvin trial over the death of George Floyd. Waters told reporters, “I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty.”
When reporters asked Waters what should happen if justice isn’t served in the courts in the Chauvin trial, Waters responded: “We gotta stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. They’ve got to know that we mean business.”
Today, the verdict on Chauvin was handed down by the jury, and it was “guilty, guilty, guilty”. The former police officer is now a convicted murderer — but that doesn’t mean his trial was handled perfectly.
For instance, it’s infuriating beyond words that the judge presiding over Chauvin’s trial joined in on Republican admonishments against the congresswoman simply exercising her right to protest during the weekend. While denying Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson’s move for a mistrial based on Waters’ comments, Judge Peter A. Cahill conceded that Waters “may have given” the defense grounds “on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.” Cahill went on to criticize elected officials that he said were speaking about the case “in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”
On May 25, 2020, police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd over an alleged fake $20 bill. Not only did he kill him, he did so in the most brutal fashion. For several minutes, Chauvin knelt his knee
on George Floyd’s neck and took his life away. Millions of us across the world have seen the video of Floyd’s execution, which lasted nine minutes and 29 seconds.
The fact that any of us had to even question whether a guilty verdict would be handed down after watching that video speaks to the pervasiveness and power of white supremacy in law enforcement and society; not to mention how easy it is to consistently dehumanize us. Waters was right to hit back on the criticism directed at her by both conservatives and the presiding judge. She was simply demonstrating leadership.
President Biden’s pre-verdict comments mirrored what Maxine Waters said, but, unsurprisingly, didn’t generate the same outcry.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is — I think it’s overwhelming, in my view,” he told reporters from the White House. After the verdict, he said that, “We’ve been watching every second of this, and the vice president, all of us, and we’re all so relieved not just for one verdict but all three, guilty on all three counts, and it’s just really important.”
Floyd’s brother also revealed that Biden reached out to the Floyd family directly, saying he was praying for them. Biden understands what has been done to the Floyd family. Biden recognizes how often this happens to Black families. It remains to be seen what he does about it, but he, much like Waters, understood what a “not guilty” verdict would signify.
Thankfully, the decision from the jury was unanimous, finding Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. Members reportedly deliberated for just under 11 hours before reaching a verdict. Personally, I can’t believe it even took that long — one of many reasons to find this verdict pleasing but not necessarily comforting.
I am relieved for the Floyd family. Above all, they deserved this outcome. But the fact that a Black man had to be murdered in front of the whole world and thousands across the country had to protest in order to get a semblance of justice for a change is no sign of hope.
Even before the announcement, many of us understood that regardless of the verdict, “reforming” police looks more unrealistic than ever. The trial judge may not have liked what Waters had to say, but her remarks show she understands the pervasiveness of the problem. That’s because, with or without her title, she has to share the knowledge of a racist law enforcement with her primarily Black constituents.
Today, George Floyd received justice, but will Daunte Wright? Will Breonna Taylor ever get justice? Will any of the others?
If you are against police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement, you will have to stay on the streets. You will have to keep applying pressure to politicians and powerful entities like police unions. You will have to get confrontational. You have to do all of this because Black people are still being killed by police officers nationwide.
Waters’ words were not inciting violence; they were giving guidance to people rightly skeptical of a justice system that routinely allows the police to kill us. I and so many other Black people won’t have any less fear of being pulled over by a police officer tomorrow. That’s the kind of nightmare that no single verdict can change, and, like it or not, change always requires confrontation.