We can’t wait for justice. We have to make justice happen/ Photo by Ellisse Daley on Scopio

Derek Chauvin Conviction Is One Down, But How Many To Go…?

You can still hear the cheering and the celebration, this many days after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. But what you can also hear are the uncomfortable conversations about what this really means. Is this a turning point for American justice, or did we finally only manage to win one lone case that was so perfect and so clear in the midst of such a perfectly clear perfect storm that it could not possibly have gone another way?

Is the only way for Black folks murdered by police to get justice in America is to be murdered perfectly?

The last time this many Black folks were this thrilled about a court verdict was when O.J. Simpson was declared ‘Not Guilty’ of killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman. And Nicole Brown Simpson was a white woman which, if you know anything at all about the hyper-sexualized racial history in America, matters one hell of a lot. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, was lynched by a mob of white men on August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi for allegedly insulting — and then it became assaulting — a white woman. That white woman, Carolyn Bryant, is still alive and has since admitted that her accusation was not true.

Emmett Till is still dead.

That’s how twisted and fucked up the legal system is for Black folks in America; we are so accustomed to not getting any justice, of getting accused of things we never did, murdered for no reason by those who are paid by our own tax dollars to protect us, that we stood up and cheered when a Black man received a not guilty verdict in an American courtroom for killing two white people. It almost didn’t even matter whether or not O.J. had actually killed them. What mattered was that, finally, a Black man in America got away with it. Like white folks had been getting away with it for all those years. Because we remembered the way those white cops — members of the Ku Klux Klan- laughed in the courtroom after they got away with murdering Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in June of 1964, three young civil rights workers who made the mistake of existing anywhere in Mississippi while fighting for justice for Black people.

So when O.J. got away with it — because to this day I sincerely believe O.J. did, in fact, murder his wife and Ron Goldman as well — there was almost a collective and vengeful feeling in the air of “So how does it feel, white folks?”

Of course, what wasn’t discussed much above a whisper in the midst of the celebrations and head-nodding was that O.J.’s not guilty verdict required a legal team so formidable and so expensive that they were dubbed The Dream Team. It was truly an all-star, legal Super Bowl lineup of legal eagles, including the late Johnnie Cochran (“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”),F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, and Alan Dershowitz. That crew could have argued that hell is cold and the devil is a Christian missionary and they would have won. So convincing a jury that a rich and famous Black football superstar/moviestar/TV star/Hertz Rent-A-Car superstar with a history of beating his white wife while the white cops looked the other way probably was just a mildly challenging legal exercise — and one hell of a payday, not to mention good for business. I mean, you just can’t buy advertising that good.

When it comes to the case of Derek Chauvin, once again there is that collective feeling of …finally.

And it does feel good. Much better, in fact, than with O.J. Simpson. But there is still that nagging question of what now? The answer is one that most of us rarely ever want to hear, but that we need to hear if we want to have any realistic hope of turning the page.

It is up to us.

Longtime Detroit-based journalist, musician and writer. Co-founder of Detroit Stories Quarterly.

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