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This time, at least, the system got it right

By: - April 20, 2021 4:53 pm
derek chauvin kneeling on george floyd

Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd. The unarmed man died after begging Chauvin to let him up because he could not breathe. Screenshot via Facebook

It was the only logical and moral conclusion, and still it seemed almost unimaginable.

After so many senseless police killings of so many unarmed people of color, especially young Black men, the news of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd brought me to tears.

These were not tears of joy, but tears of disbelief and even relief, combined with a notion of hope that a great societal wrong that’s plagued our communities for so long was finally being challenged.

It’s not that I’ve lost all faith in our justice system as much as I simply understand how often the system gets it so very wrong, especially when the victim is poor or Black or Brown or otherwise marginalized and powerless to fight back.

If history is written by the victors, laws are made — and sometimes ignored with utter impunity — by the enforcers.

George Floyd, like so many others brutally slain at the hands of police, often on the pettiest of pretenses, should be alive today. No one should be executed for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill, or having expired license plates, or for running scared from police as a 13-year-old boy recently did in Chicago seconds before he was felled by a bullet to his chest.

Chauvin’s conviction alone, of course, won’t stop the murder of more George Floyds, or Daunte Wrights, or Adam Toledos because bad cops never act alone. Endemic corruption and institutionalized anathema for the natural course of this country’s changing demographics are their unremitting accomplices.

When I think back on the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, I remember the look in Chauvin’s eyes. It was the look of unabashed impunity, a license granted by a deeply broken system that told him, “Don’t worry, you’ll get away with this.”

On Tuesday, as I watched the judge announce Chauvin’s conviction, I couldn’t help but notice a different but equally searing gaze in the now convicted felon’s eyes. This time it was a look of surprise borne of an unwavering, if delusional, belief by Chauvin that his life was somehow worth more than Floyd’s.

This time the system proved him wrong, and this time, at least, the system got it right.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of a major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught creative and non-fiction writing, ethnic studies, theater, literature and Latino politics at ASU. The founder and producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co., James is the author of more than 30 plays, including the upcoming “The Two Souls of Cesar Chavez.”