by Anika Jain (’22) | May 10, 2021
On April 20, 2021, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty for unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. Last year on Memorial Day, Floyd’s death incited worldwide protests for police reform, police abolition, equity, and racial justice.
Calls to end police brutality have been a prominent issue in United States history, dating well before the Civil Rights Movement. For many, the verdict represents accountability, not justice. Only after millions of people marched in the streets was the egregious incident given the media attention and condemnation that it deserved. The conviction of Chauvin was not proof that our system works, but rather that we are in desperate need of reform. Chauvin’s guilt and the murder of another innocent Black man by the police should not have incited the public debate that it did—these are indisputable, unjustifiable atrocities that exist in our society.
As one demonstrator in Minneapolis so eloquently stated in an ACLU podcast, “The man murdered another man in front of the world. There’s a lot more that needs to be done. There’s too many George Floyds that were not caught on camera…We’re not asking for change, we are demanding change.”
The conviction of Chauvin is a rare incident, one that hopefully has offered relief to George Floyd’s family and community for their immeasurable loss. Nonetheless, the institutions that enabled his death are still intact today. A week before the final testimony, another man by the name of Daunte Wright was fatally shot during a traffic stop by Brooklyn police officer Kim Potter, who claimed that she mistook her gun for her taser. Wright was only 20 years old. Potter has since been charged with second degree manslaughter.
Almost a year after Floyd’s death, it is clear that not enough has changed. However, following Chauvin’s verdict, we can be cautiously optimistic about police reform. In March, the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, as well as implements measures to end racial and religious profiling. The act also reforms qualified immunity in order to lessen the protections law enforcement officers receive in civil court. Unfortunately, the bill has not budged in the Senate since March.
Furthermore, many cities such as Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and a dozen more have begun reallocating police funds. Over the last four decades, police spending has tripled, resulting in America becoming the leading nation in incarceration rates and police killings. Thus, municipal lawmakers plan to redirect a portion of police funds to social programs—such as housing programs, education initiatives, universal healthcare, and homelessness services—that aim to reduce crime by targeting the root causes of crime and poverty. According to a report by Interrupting Criminalization, which is an initiative by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, advocacy organizations bargained approximately $870 million in budget cuts from U.S. police departments during 2020 budget votes, with at least $160 million of those funds being invested in community services.
Reflecting on the impacts of the Black Lives Matter protests held last summer, one thing is clear: this verdict and the reform policies would not have been possible without the millions of game changers who took to the streets, who educated the public about systemic racism, who donated to bail funds and civil rights organizations, who made their voices heard. The movement for racial justice has only just begun, and hopefully, we all have learned the power of a community that unites in solidarity and rallies behind a common goal.