When I wrote about the Chauvin trial two weeks ago, in the middle of the hearing, I felt that the prosecution had made an open and shut case. But, I was cautioned not to get my hopes up since juries are loath to convict police officers. I genuinely became distraught, and as the case progressed, despite how overwhelming it appeared, that cautionary warning hung over my head. Will there ever be hope?
The country, and the world, breathed a heavy sigh of relief on Tuesday when the jury, in a relatively quick and ultimately resounding decision, convicted Chauvin on all three counts. And I reference a long exhale of a breath in relief because George Floyd was never afforded the opportunity to breathe. Neither was Eric Gardner, and the countless others who lost their breaths, their lives, and their dignity at the hands of overtly racist actions by rogue police officers. Could there be a glimmer of hope now?
It was a remarkable moment, that verdict. A long, long overdue moment, and a historic moment for sure. Finally, the dark cloud of racial injustice in these despicable cases, cleared albeit most likely briefly, and it seemed that all that has been wrong in the world was righted for a moment, but how long will it last, and did we learn anything over the last turbulent year?
It’s been almost a year since Floyd was murdered, and it’s been a tumultuous time in the United States. His death started an avalanche of protests, of speaking up, speaking out, and a learning process for all of us, and through the privilege of writing this column, I was able to better understand all the wrongs that needed to be made right, and some of those who have been touched by bigotry and discrimination.
Most recently, I talked to Travon Free about his Oscar-nominated film and how it represented all that was and is wrong in the world, particularly for Black men who it seems, regardless of whatever they do, always have a target on their backs.
I talked to the director Robert Townsend who made a Black gay holiday movie 25 years ago that never got it’s due, partially we all now know because no one really gave much thought or care to the plight of a gay Black man, let alone one who was a drag queen. Two films, from different eras, that speak volumes about being singled out, and being left out.
I had the amazing opportunity to speak with California Supreme Court Justice Martin Jenkins, who became the first LGBTQ+ individual and only the third African-American on the state’s high court. Jenkins is near 70, and he spent a lifetime as a civil rights attorney and federal judge. In his wildest dreams, he never thought that he’d become a Supreme Court justice. His ascension was a rare, hopeful moment in a year of tragedies.
I wrote about all the anger in the country after the heartbreak of the Breonna Taylor verdict, and talked about how Senator Bobby Kennedy announced the news of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a shocked crowd in Indianapolis back on a cold April evening in 1968. He calmed the crowd with stirring words. But I asked, 52 years after that incident, has anything changed, and why has this country remained so stagnant, despite the fact that there were people like King and Kennedy, and others, who fought so hard for civil rights. Were their efforts in vain in the discriminatory year of 2020?
When we lost both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman John Lewis last year, I wrote about their fights for equality, particularly Lewis who risked his life on multiple occasions. Thank God he was able to live long enough to see the rise of Black Lives Matter. He was an exceptional human being. I had the very meaningful and powerful experience of meeting him, talking with him, an image that made me realize all those years ago that discrimination was a disease without a real cure, despite the heroic efforts of Lewis.
Donald Trump was a disease on this country, and I wrote several pieces about his overt racism, and how he was an affront to the memory of George Floyd. The dichotomy between Black Lives Matter and Trump’s comment about good people on both sides at the Charlottesville race riot could not be starker. Trump was an infection that had a cure, and that was the overwhelming turnout of Black voters during the presidential election, which I predicted in a column before the vote. They saved this country with their strong support for President Biden, and that’s not hyperbole.
And they rescued this country for the next generation. One of the more memorable conversations I had was with one of the gay fathers of a two-year old Maxwell, who is Black. Maxwell and his friend Finnegan, who is white were the stars of a viral video of the two of them running down the sidewalk toward each other and then excitedly hugging. That video was cruelly edited by the deceitful Trump campaign with a caption that read “Terrified toddler runs from racist baby.” It was sickening.
Maxwell’s father Michael Cisnero’s summed up the feelings of so many when he said, “No child should have to be taught that the people that are supposed to protect them are also the people that they should fear due to the color of their skin. It makes them feel less than, insecure, hurt, and, I’m sure, angry. It saddens me just saying these things to you. I fear for the time when we will have to start these talks with Maxwell.”
Which brings us full-circle back to Free’s film of a Black man who is singled out, over and over again, just because of the color of his skin. It also brings us back to George Floyd, who a year ago, pleaded with a police officer who was supposed to protect him, to get off his neck and spare his life. At that time, the arrogant Chauvin had little to worry about if he discarded Floyd. Who was going to convict him?
For 9 minutes and 29 seconds, he snuffed the life out of a Black man, while a nine-year old Black girl, Judeah Reynolds, pleaded for him to stop. Chauvin ignored the pleas of the young Black girl. It meant nothing to him that he was killing a Black man in front of a child. He kept the pressure on Floyd. He ignored the cries from Floyd. Why would it matter if this Black man died? Why would anyone care? Who was going to stop him? Certainly not systematic racism in the judicial system. He felt safe.
While a little Black girl felt desperately frightened and scared as she watched a white police officer slowly kill a Black man without cause. Judeah can rest a little easier tonight. The cruel police officer is in prison, and hopefully that little girl, like Maxwell, can someday not have to worry about being victims because of the color of their skin.
George Floyd's seven-year old daughter, Gianna, said her dad would change the world. He did. We all learned tremendously from his death, and justice was served. At least in this moment for Maxwell, Judeah, and Gianna there's a glimmer of hope for their future.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.