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Last Tuesday, April 20, an ethnically mixed jury returned the verdict of guilty in all three charges brought against policeman Dereck Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. The death of Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, United States of America (U.S), at the knee of Chauvin who kept pressure on his neck for almost nine minutes, which was recorded and went viral, shocked the world. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
In that video-recorded by a 17-year-old teenager girl who prosecutors have to thank- it could be heard the pleas of onlookers and Floyd to have Chauvin take his knee off his neck, even when it was known he was having difficulty breathing. All those pleadings were in vain and people later watched in horror as Floyd took his last breath. That fading plea by Floyd that he could not breathe, and calling on his mother when his life was being snuffed out, will reverberate forever. It was horrible.
During the trial there were mixed feelings about whether justice will be served because there was no other better evidence than an actual recording that captured it all. It wasn’t until Tuesday after the verdict was read people got a fuller appreciation of how many around the world were watching the trial and invested in its outcome. Britain Prime Minister, Boris Johnson issued a statement saying he was “appalled” by Floyd’s death and welcomed the verdict. He went as far as saying “My thoughts tonight are with George Floyd’s family and friends.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted on twitter account that “In the US today, we saw accountability for the murder of George Floyd. But make no mistake, systemic racism and anti-Black racism still exist. And they exist in Canada, too. Our work must and will continue.”
There has been no public reaction from President Irfaan Ali on the verdict. Guyanese would have appreciated hearing how he feels about a trial that gripped the world’s attention and more than likely he would have been aware of it. Guyana is not unlike the U.S where problems such as police brutality, racism and poor relations exit. In that, in the U.S a jury that comprised persons of all races could have convicted is a positive for race relations. In too that, prominent Heads of Government and State of white ethnicity expressed approval for the verdict and weighed in on race relations in America, they have set a great example for their societies and the world.
U.S President Joe Biden in his address to the nation said the “verdict is a step forward” and gave a sobering reflection about that society’s reality. He said: “Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare. For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors: a brave young woman with a smartphone camera; a crowd that was traumatised — traumatised witnesses; a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for, ultimately, the whole world to see; officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended; a jury who heard the evidence, carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure. For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver a just — just basic accountability.”
Biden’s remarks captured the essence of what the verdict means to society, and reservation held that the factors he highlighted could have been ignored, in spite of what was being recorded on a rolling camera. And whilst there remains much work to be done in the U.S to make justice widespread, the verdict did for a moment assured Americans and the world Black Lives Matter. It assured the world that there are whites- as the dominant group- that believe this too, could fearlessly say so, and likewise return an undisputable guilty verdict.
It is also noteworthy in the moment of relief and joy, the reminder by former U.S President Barack Obama that, “True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day,” adding that there are still many who “fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last” That fear is real.