George Floyd's killer being convicted for murder is a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, now it must continue to fight for fundamental change, argues Shabbir Lakha
Derek Chauvin, who was filmed last year with his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, has been convicted for Floyd’s murder. With less than a day of deliberation, the jury unanimously found the (now ex-) police officer guilty of all three charges brought against him.
The trial is not entirely over as Chauvin awaits sentencing, as his three fellow officers await their trials, and Chauvin prepares to appeal the decision. Nonetheless, this is a victory for everyone that has fought for justice for George Floyd internationally.
There can be no doubt that this would not have happened without the eruption of Black Lives Matter following Floyd’s murder. Convicting a police officer for murdering a black person is so rare that hundreds of National Guard troops were brought from nearby states onto the streets of Minneapolis in the expectation of an acquittal and subsequent protests.
In 2020 alone, 241 black people have been killed by police officers. Yet, since 2005, only 140 officers involved in fatal shootings have been charged, only 44 of those were convicted, and only 7 of those for murder – the majority being acquitted of the higher charge. In recent years, we have seen the killers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor and so many more get away with it.
So it’s clear, had the biggest protest movement in US history not taken to the streets in anger after Floyd was killed, the likelihood of Chauvin being charged let alone convicted are slim.
In a televised address following the verdict, President Biden claimed this was a historic day but said “it’s not enough” and “we can't leave this moment or look away thinking our work is done”. And he’s not wrong – though this change is not going to come from Biden, the author of the 1994 Crime Law and under whose first stint in the White House as Vice President the Black Lives Matter movement first emerged.
Indeed, Biden is pushing for Congress to approve a Bill on police reform which has been named after George Floyd and which offers lukewarm proposals like improving police training on profiling and creating a registry for “problem officers”.
Sure, it’s better than nothing and that this menial reform of policing is even on the table is an achievement for the movement. But it’s not even close to solving the problem. The last year has given birth to a movement demanding fundamental change, and that’s what it will need to continue to fight for.
Since George Floyd’s murder, over 100 black people have been killed by the police, most aren’t filmed and don’t go viral. This includes Daunte Wright who was shot dead just miles away from where the Chauvin trial was taking place, by an officer who claims she mistook her gun for a taser. Brooklyn Center, where Wright was killed, has had curfews imposed to stop protests and footage has emerged of people being arrested at gunpoint by soldiers as a result.
Black Lives Matter protesters who took to the streets last year were met with armed police and military personnel who attacked them with rubber, plastic and wooden bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and flash grenades. Under the 1033 program, police forces in the US have received $7.4 billion worth of military equipment from the Department of Defense since 1997.
There is a deep-rooted problem of violent and institutionally racist policing and a criminal justice system unfit for purpose, which simply cannot be reformed away. That the Black Lives Matter movement has forced politicians to begin to rein in the police to any degree is a testament to the power it has, but it cannot accept this as enough. The movement has put forward demands to defund, and in some places even abolish, the police and these demands must be carried through in a sustained fight for systemic change.
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Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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