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The Movement for Racial Justice Will Continue, Regardless of the Chauvin Verdict

Personal essay: Justice for Black lives goes beyond the courtroom.

by Danielle Broadway
March 22, 2021 | Our Future
Illustration of Black Lives Matter protesters holding signs for racial justice and against police brutality, chauvin trial, rewire, racial justice
Credit: Di // Adobe

As police brutality becomes so pervasive in American culture, I find myself engulfed in a state of normalized grieving. I no longer gasp when I see another face and name that needs justice or yet another video that I can hardly bring myself to watch.

Through collective sorrow, new legislation has been introduced, like the Justice For Breonna Taylor Act to prohibit no-knock warrants and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that was drafted by Democratic lawmakers, including the Congressional Black Caucus.

It seems there has never been anything drafted in the Black civil rights movement that hasn't been born from the ever-haunting marriage between murder and justice.

Introduced in June 2020, following the massive waves of global Black Lives Matter protests, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act echoes demands that have been made for generations. Activists and lawmakers are still collectively holding their breath, and so am I.

Awaiting the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been an unnerving process, as seeking any form of justice is an emotional labor that Black people, including myself, have carried the heavy weight of for years.

What is justice?

I was one of the activists who took to the streets last year with my signs and fellow community members. I marched with Black Lives Matters protesters in Long Beach and Los Angeles, California. 

We were confronted by angry drivers who charged their cars at us, as if we were ants needing to be wiped off the table. We also faced police officers who threatened us with dogs, arrests and rubber bullets (which they would eventually let loose), and the military grade weapons and gear of the National Guard, poised and ready to land a kill.

Every time my crestfallen heart shouts "Justice for..." yet another name, I find myself wondering in horror and anguish what justice even means.

If justice neither raises the dead nor returns stolen lives, what does it do? If a courtroom eventually concludes that an innocent Black man was murdered by yet another white police officer, it would hardly feel like cause for celebration. 

Sometimes it feels like society expects Black people to jump for joy when a white officer is actually called out for his crime and faces a consequence. But, to me, that's nothing more than acknowledging a basic concept that someone should learn as a child about being held accountable for their actions.

In elementary school, a friend of mine admitted to killing her pet guinea pigs. It was not an accident, and she made no excuses. She explained that she was tired of having them around, so she and her cousin threw them over the fence.

It was one of the most horrific stories I had heard in my young life, but my friend seemed unashamed, and no one ever punished her for what she did. Even if someone had punished her, those guinea pigs were already long dead and nothing anyone did would bring them back.

To me, finding Chauvin guilty of multiple counts of murder and manslaughter is nothing more than the child-like lesson of being held accountable. In this case, he killed a Black man whom he treated like an unnecessary animal. Yet, like so many before him, Chauvin may get a slap on the wrist and be told, like a child, not to do it again.

It's the nearly 2,000 Black people lynched during Reconstruction in racist killings that were widely known, but seldom acknowledged. 

It's the scenario of 44-year-old Chauvin being found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, but only getting up to 40 years in prison, while George Floyd will never have another year of life. I don't think that's justice. It may be a punishment, but I don't believe that this is the world that I'm chanting for. This is not the justice that my people have been dying for.

Justice must go beyond a ruling

Justice shouldn't start or end in a courtroom; by then, it's already too late. Justice for Black lives shouldn't only be granted in death. 

Photo of Black Lives Matter activists holding protest signs against racism, chauvin trial, rewire, racial justice
Justice shouldn't start or end in a courtroom; by then, it's already too late.  |  Credit: Alessandro Biascioli // Adobe

Even if Chauvin is sentenced to prison for life, there will still be more men who look like Floyd filling the prisons than people who look like Chauvin. There will still be more men who look like Floyd being sent to the grave than people who look like Chauvin. Whatever justice is, this is not it. 

There are countless ghosts haunting the cemeteries far beyond the afterlife of slavery. I can't translate for the dead, but something tells me that the only justice that will truly reverberate is one in which there are less restless souls in the grave.

The Chauvin trial is not the alpha and omega of movement work and activism for me. Regardless of how the case unravels, there is no reprieve, no catharsis, no closure and no rest. The movement work must continue.

Black people know and have known for generations that the legal system is stacked against us. We saw that in the case of Trayvon Martin, and again with Elijah Mclain and Breonna Taylor and so many more cases of police brutality.

This is not to say that charging Chauvin wouldn't be a good thing, it is to say that it would be but a drop in a much larger bucket. 

Justice means systemic change

Justice is taking down systemic racism. It's abolishing the police and creating a system that was not built on the anti-Black militarization of a nation founded on principles of murdering Black people. 

If the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act or a similar policy doesn't come in the wake of this trial, do we have justice? Or do we have to expect yet another case like Floyd's coming up next? It's not justice if it's a cyclical problem that doesn't change. 

The bill, which limits qualified immunity for police and calls for a national police misconduct registry, is an ample start, but far from a finish point. For those calling for the abolition of the police department, like myself, this doesn't accomplish the mission but it does work to improve a broken system. 

Come hell or high water, there is work to do, and we need each other to work as a collective. I use my privilege as a writer and journalist to cover stories that advocate for systemic change when it comes to police brutality and anti-Blackness. There's a role for you, too. If you don't know what it is, it's time to ask the local BLM chapter and Black organizations in your neighborhood what they need, and then do it

I don't know what will come of the Chauvin case, but I do know that it will never be more than a temporary consequence if we do not continue the movement work for lasting systemic justice.

Danielle Broadway
Danielle Broadway is a writer, editor, MA student, activist and educator who is inspired by her family to make social change in the classroom and beyond.
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