By Lisa Leonard
Thousands are celebrating in the streets of Minneapolis today after the judge in Derek Chauvin’s trial announced the jury’s guilty verdict for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin was convicted of all three charges, including second and third degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison; third degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 25 years and second-degree manslaughter up to 10 years in prison. Prison times can be less for those without prior criminal charges. The sentencing will take place in about 8 weeks.
A giant cheer went up from the crowds of expectant protestors gathered near the courthouse and at George Floyd square when the verdict was announced. The City of Minneapolis has been on edge for weeks throughout the trial as security measures, including concrete barriers and barbed wire went up downtown. Some 2,000 National Guard forces were mobilized in Minneapolis and nearby cities. The cop and Guard presence served as an ominous warning that city and state officials were fully prepared to repress mass protests in the event of a Chauvin acquittal. Armored trucks and gun-carrying Guard members patrolled the streets. Storefronts were boarded up. The immediate area around the courthouse was closed down completely.
Last week, union members kicked the National Guard out of the St. Paul Labor Center after they stationed their trucks there and partially headquartered at the labor facility. The police murder of a 20-year old Black man, Daunte Wright, a week earlier in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, had sparked mass protests across the state and nationally. On Monday high school students across the state walked out of their schools to call for justice for George, Daunte and other people killed by police.
“This was homicide,” said State Prosecutor
In closing arguments on Monday, April 19, State Prosecutor Steve Schleicher urged jurors to focus on the infamous video of Chauvin brutally kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Chauvin continued to crush the life out of his handcuffed victim long after Floyd’s repeated cries of “I can’t breathe!” had ceased. The horror revealed by the video sparked mass mobilizations against police brutality, that quickly spread across the country and around the world. “Believe your eyes. Unreasonable force, pinning him to the ground–that’s what killed him. This was a homicide,” said Schleicher. “The case is exactly what you thought when you first saw it – when you first saw the video. It’s exactly that. It’s exactly what you felt in your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”
Daily police murders! Convictions rare!
The conviction of Derek Chauvin today was a huge victory for the movement against police brutality in Minnesota and across the U.S. It may set a new precedent and new possibilities for the prosecution of police officers in these types of cases. This victory was the result of massive street mobilizations and anti-racist organizing, not just for justice in the murder of George Floyd, but for justice for Jamar Clark, for Philando Castille, for Breonna Taylor, for Dolal Idd, for Daunte Wright, for Adam Toledo and for countless other Black and Brown people who are killed by police every day.
President Joseph Biden spoke to the nation shortly after the announcement of the guilty verdict. During the course of his carefully prepared speech he insisted that most police serve society justly and that those who fail to meet the standard should be held accountable. This is what the powers that be want us to believe. That the court system works, that justice has been served, that we should all go back to living our lives.
The truth lies elsewhere. Police kill 1,000 people in the U.S. every year. Just last week, body camera footage was released of a Chicago cop killing a 13-year old boy, Adam Toledo. Of the 1,000-plus annual police murders, only a tiny fraction are even charged, much less convicted. According to the New York Times, only 44 police have been convicted in the U.S. since 2005, often of a lesser charge The overall conviction rate is barely one percent. In Minnesota, 478 people have been killed by police since 2000, but only four prosecutions of police have ever taken place and only one police officer has been convicted before Chauvin. That police officer was a Somali-American man convicted of killing a white woman. Derek Chauvin is the first white police officer ever convicted of killing a Black person in the state. Chauvin had 26 previous complaints filed against him and four prior deadly force incidents before he was tried for the murder of George Floyd.
Racist system remains intact
Despite the popular sense that “justice was served” in the murder of George Floyd, the racist police system remains intact. This system includes the racist “criminal justice” system, the racist school-to-prison pipeline, and the mass incarceration and detention horrors. This is a social system based on the historic foundations of U.S. slavery and slave patrols, upholding the “legal” system of Jim Crow segregation, government-enforced “chain gang” labor on the plantations of the former slaveocracy, and union busting. It is a system constructed to protect the power and property of the rich, not to protect and serve the working class. Had it not been for the 20 million who mobilized in 2,000 U.S. cities last summer to denounce the still-prevailing systemic racism in this country and to insist that Black Lives Matter, George Floyd’s murder would have likely gone unpunished.
Despite the ongoing organizing and the millions of people who poured into the streets over the last year, nothing resembling “police reform,” much less defunding and dismantling the police, has been implemented to alter the systemic racism that prevails in every institution of U.S. society. One Minneapolis protestor who was interviewed live today summed it up well. She said, “I feel a sense of relief, but also renewed urgency. This is the beginning of justice, not the end. It’s not just this one cop, it’s an entire system that needs to be dismantled and reformed.”
The power of mass movements
The unprecedented scope of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, that instantly exploded again following the recent police murder of Daunte Wright, provided a stunning example of the potential power of mass action to shake the foundations of the racist system. The power of these movements frightened the ruling elite, who in short order felt compelled to accede to the removal of many of the most blatant symbols of the Confederate slaveocracy that still exist in statues, monuments, paintings, and in the names of prestigious institutions. To date, more than 30 states have passed over 140 new “police oversight and reform” laws purportedly aimed at “restricting the use of force, overhauling disciplinary systems, installing more civilian oversight and requiring transparency around misconduct cases,” according to a New York Time survey of state legislature proceedings. Most of these “reforms” are cosmetic in nature – aimed at placing a thin veneer of restraint over the daily reality of police murder and repression. Nevertheless, they reflect a ruling class fear that future revolts may not be easily coopted into safe electoral channels. Today, they believe, the “system” they defend must be publicly presented, however disingenuously, as compassionate and responsive.
Reforms and “compassion” aside, local, state and federal funds for policing are on the rise! This is a sure sign that the ruling rich fully understand that in the face of a generalized increasing awareness of the brutality of their system, more, not less, repression may well be required. That was the meaning of the militarization of Minneapolis leading up to the Chauvin trial. Barriers, billy clubs, and tanks were set to make certain that a justifiably outraged population wouldn’t exceed the bounds of “acceptable” protest.
Role of the Democratic Party
In the lead up to the 2020 elections, the Democratic Party proved to be capitalism’s central vehicle in channeling the mass anti-racist Black Lives Matter mobilizations into the party’s electoral apparatus, the “graveyard of social movements.” From unprecedented millions united in actions across the country, this promising movement’s corporate-funded NGO and opportunist political leaders (funded to the tune of $90 million) were momentarily successful in steering the mass power in the streets into the election campaign of Joseph Biden. Yet in a matter of minutes, the police murder of Daunte Wright sparked those same mass forces to re-emerge to demand justice from a racist system that they perceived as categorically rejected it.
The mass and joyous reactions to Derek Chauvin’s conviction affirm that a deep sense of justice and human dignity permeates the consciousness of countless millions of working people. George Floyd will remain a symbol of the reality of police brutality and murder. No one doubts that he will not be the last victim of police violence in racist America. The independent, massive and ongoing organizing efforts of working people that challenge capitalist racism and repression on all fronts will prove to be decisive factors in winning decisive future victories. These will in turn lay the basis for new and independent organizations aimed at challenging the system itself. Join us in the struggle! Join Socialist Action!