On April 20, while looking to the sky, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addressed the nation and seemingly, the spirit of George Floyd yesterday with these words. Her remarks followed a jury rendering a guilty verdict on all three counts against Officer Derek Chauvin in his trial for Floyd's murder.
“...For being there, to call out to your mom,” Pelosi continued her post-verdict speech. She stumbled on, but not without halting, for the briefest of moments, to acknowledge the untethered pain of that invocation. “How heartbreaking was that?” she asked so casually it gave me chills. She moved on, surrounded by lawmakers and a D.C. crowd flanked by police and military officers tasked with keeping "law and order" in case the verdict went the other way — a tell-tale indication of our own government’s faith in this system. The excessive police presence was an even bigger sign of the country’s (lack of) faith in the verdict at a time when neither law, nor order would be enough of an answer for Black people in America. “Heartbreaking.” Yes, that’s one word for it.
This verdict is not a good thing, it was the only thing.
If you had been holding your breath through gritted teeth and tense shoulders waiting for Chauvin’s verdict, busying yourself, consciously opting out of tuning in to trial updates in favour of hoping for the best (but preparing for the worst), you’re not alone. In the hour before the verdict was read, my body stiffened, and I sunk into the familiar fight or flight mode most of us have been in for the past 15 months — if not our whole lives. “Unclench your jaw. Unclench your jaw, Chelsea,” I chanted out loud in my apartment alone as I waited, and continued to distract myself with work or something else. Anything else. That adrenaline coursed through me right up until the moment my phone buzzed over and over and my Deputy Director confirmed the guilty verdict in our Unbothered Slack channel.
And then, nothing.
Well not quite nothing. Relief was there, sure, but for the most part, my mind was overwhelmingly, disturbingly blank. There was no rejoicing, no ‘cue the music’, no dancing in the streets and horn honking energy that I remember so vividly for things like O.J.’s acquittal and Biden’s presidential win. I’m not so misguided to think that these moments are the same. I know we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s most definitely not the ‘90s anymore and there is no winner here. It’s of note though, that my own recollections of ‘judicial justice’ are limited, and problematic, at best.
A terse Serena Williams fist pump to my computer screen served as the sole ‘celebration’ to the close of a trial that, though it gave a better outcome than many before it, showed the worst of a system that was never going to give Black people comfort. It’s a system that can’t possibly be rectified with this singular outcome.
As many have already said, this verdict is simply a consequence and a punishment for Chauvin's actions, and maybe a small step towards accountability, but not justice.
This country’s entire justice system enables — and even encourages — Black trauma and death. That’s the system that is currently patting itself on the back for upholding “justice.”
While we’re here, let’s take a minute to talk about “justice.”
“Justice” — like “rest,” “self-care,” or the phrase “‘the benefit of the doubt” — is a buzzword we use a lot, especially recently, but rarely get to experience as Black people. In the past year, someone must have turned our mics up because suddenly ‘justice’ is everywhere – falling from the sky like snowflakes, but careful before you catch one, because it’s only available at a steep price. “Justice,” if Speaker Pelosi is to be believed, is a rarity that can only be doled out to us after death. To Pelosi, justice is a posthumous Purple Star we get after we’ve “proven” our worth in blood and have nothing, not even our lives, to show for it. After — and this part is key — only after everyone else gets theirs.
White people are lucky Black people only want equality, and not revenge. I’ve heard this refrain many times in the past year, as the rage, confusion, and hurt over Floyd’s murder reached a fever pitch and we screamed to be treated like people, not hashtags, or rallying cries or 4x4 images on protest posters.
Equality is a right we demand as humans. Justice, though? Justice is supposed to be a promise we deserve as people, particularly after a legacy of so-called “sacrificing” for those who now hold our broken bodies in their hands. That promise is far from being fulfilled, and one that, as my blank reaction signalled, we need to stop seeking from this country altogether.
I’m just about done waiting for justice that may never come from a system that rarely answers for its actions.
Let’s be clear: This verdict is not a good thing, it was the only thing. If upheld, this is the absolute bare minimum the justice system could do to hold one man accountable for Floyd’s murder and to prevent the “more confrontational” approach Auntie Maxine Waters was alluding to if things had gone the other way.
Let’s be even clearer: Chauvin is not the only person that should be held accountable for George Floyd’s murder. While he now rightfully has to answer for his actions with jail time, he was not alone. There are no “bad apples.” No one person is the ultimate enemy that, once caught, will magically unlock the “justice” starter pack. Even Pelosi, whose comments were enraging and tone deaf, isn’t solely to blame.
An entire system of white supremacy is responsible for this, and should be held accountable and dismantled. This country’s entire justice system enables — and even encourages — Black trauma and death. That’s the system that is currently patting itself on the back for upholding “justice.”
“George Floyd’s name is synonymous with justice now,” Pelosi said.
THIS is where I started to feel something. And I felt it hard.
To say that Floyd is now a symbol of justice is to negate the entire flawed system that allowed a police officer to dig his knee into the neck of a Black man in broad daylight, for nine minutes and 29 seconds, while his fellow officers stood by and did nothing.
Pelosi’s words ignore those who didn’t receive ‘justice’. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Atatiana Jefferson. Daniel Prude. Countless others like Duante Wright and 16-year-old Ma'khia Bryant, the former who was killed last week by an officer who allegedly mistook her gun for a taser, and the latter whose death was reported mere minutes before the Floyd verdict. Both swiftly reminded everyone of what we already knew — justice has no place in America for Black people. Justice is the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, an event horizon we’ve never seen but still reach for every morning with arms outstretched. Justice won't come until we abolish the systems that make us chase it.
Pelosi’s words strip Floyd of his identity. They ignore his story as a Black man murdered by police, and conveniently gloss over the trauma this entire process has reignited for our community, yet again. Pelosi dared to declare George Floyd a martyr for a certain type of “justice.”
“Justice,” like “sacrifice,” is a fraught word, though. It’s constantly invoked by our community, but in this warped reality, justice has been Columbused by lawmakers who still refuse Black people of it daily. Justice is meant to signal a rightful balance, an evening of the scales that govern our country, or a ‘fair shake’ as white people say. Nothing about this situation, however, is fair or just. As many have succinctly pointed out, the only justice would be George Floyd alive today. Justice has been taken from us, twisted and distorted in the mouths of those who have no sense of it and spit back with a straight face in an all-too casual tone to those of us who fight for it.
Contrary to Speaker Pelosi’s careless speech, no justice was served, but yes, enormous sacrifices were made. I wonder who she’ll call on once Black people in America decide we’re done being the ones who make them.