Why Nancy Pelosi’s talk of George Floyd’s ‘sacrifice’ is so dangerous

Nylah Burton
·5-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

After almost a year, the country finally received the verdict in the case against former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd last May by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

To our collective surprise, Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts —second-degree unintentional murder (up to 40 years), third-degree murder (up to 25 years) and second-degree manslaughter (up to 10 years). Considering that almost the entire world saw the video of Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped “I can’t breathe” and called out for his late mother, these guilty verdicts shouldn’t have surprised us. But in a world that continuously lets police officers walk free after killing Black people like Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown, they did.

What didn’t come as a surprise, however, was how quickly pundits and politicians — both Democrat and Republican — used this verdict as an opportunity to disrespect Floyd and recast our justified anger at the system.

There were the usual loudmouth conservative TV personalities and demagogues, of course. Tucker Carlsonaccused the media of “lynching” Chauvin. Ben Shapiro claimed reverse racism. Tomi Lahren mocked Black protesters, asking “Is the Foot Locker safe tonight?” Defending Chauvin and seemingly lamenting the verdict, Bill O’Reilly tweeted that celebrating “the destruction of another human being is wrong.”

All that was sadly predictable. But most disappointing were the statements of some Democrats, which reflected a chilling lack of regard for Black lives and a dangerous refusal to deliver the actual justice the people are calling for.

Most politicians, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, said this day and this verdict represented “justice,” even though 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was killed by Columbus, Ohio police right before the Chauvin verdict was announced.

In a speech on Tuesday, Biden — the architect of the 1994 Crime Bill, which dramatically increased mass incarceration of Black people — denounced “systemic racism,” and asked the country to “unite as Americans” in a “giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.” His statement comes a week after he condemned “looting” and “rioting” in the wake of a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer’s killing of a Black man, Daunte Wright.

“This can be a moment of significant change,” he said, without specifying what changes he, as the leader of the nation, intended to enact. Beautiful, hollow remarks.

The most macabre statement came from Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who in a speech said, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom — how heartbreaking was that? — ‘I can’t breathe.’ But because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world, who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.”

“Sacrifice”: A terrible word to describe the murder of a Black man by a police officer. Floyd did not willingly lay down his life for a cause he believed in. He was murdered, and he should be alive today. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey parroted this statement, tweeting: “George Floyd came to Minneapolis to better his life. But ultimately his life will have bettered our city.”

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George Floyd did not sacrifice his life so that one police officer could go to jail. He didn’t sacrifice his life so a bunch of white people would be interested in reading books about racial justice by white authors. He didn’t sacrifice his life so politicians could make empty promises and ridiculous photo-shoots with kente cloth.

The truth of the situation is very different. Axios reported in the wake of the verdict on Chauvin that “senior Democratic and Republican aides — who would never let their bosses say so on the record — privately [said] the convictions have lessened pressure for change,” noting that the established pattern is to give a small victory, and then hope that the conversation ends.

This verdict has changed nothing. Ma’Khia Bryant — a child — was killed just before it was delivered.Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is nearly two years on the job, has refused to live up to a fraction of her promise for police reform, even after the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by Chicago police. And yet, yesterday, she tweeted of George Floyd and his murderer: “In May of 2020, I saw the harrowing footage of George Floyd’s life being extinguished beneath Derek Chauvin’s knee, and I cried. I said then and I say now, being Black in America cannot be a death sentence.”

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But in Lightfoot’s Chicago, being Black is all too often a death sentence. If she is weeping, then why doesn’t she — and all these other leaders gushing about “justice” — pass the policies that will keep Black people from dying, keep mothers from mourning, keep communities from drowning in grief and rage?

It is easier to live in a world where right-wingers make quips and ridiculous logical fallacies, and centrist politicians make obligatory Twitter posts, than it is to live in a world that is truly just.

George Floyd didn’t sacrifice his life for justice. The system killed him, and now the people who depend on that system hope we’ll be pacified enough by this verdict to stop demanding real change. Remember that when you read the reactions — both provocative and seemingly well-meaning — today.

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