Op-ed: Justice done for George Floyd: We shall breathe

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(Photo Courtesy/MSNBC)

By Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma

Former U.S. Secretary James Baker once said that where one stands on issues is a function of where one sits. Those who occupy front seats and those whose seats are in the Oval Office are expected to lead by example and take a clear stand, especially during critical times the like of which the world witnessed during the White Nationalists’ and Supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, George Floyd-related global protests, and April 20, 2021, guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin. Where do our national leaders stand on the ethical and legal issues in policing? What do they say about the Chauvin’s guilty verdict? As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden acknowledged the problem and promised that he was committed to doing something about “the injustice of the knee on the neck.” It is an understatement to say that his selection of an Afro-Asian American woman as his running mate was part and parcel of that commitment. Consistent with where he stands on this hot issue that is reminiscent of systemic racism in the USA, President Biden made a timely telephone call to Floyd’s family soon after Derek Chauvin was found guilty in George Floyd’s murder. Like a compassionate leader, the president stated, for example, 

 “I am feeling better now, and nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there is some justice. And you know, I think ofFloyd’s daughter) Gianna’s comment, “My Daddy is going to change the world.” He’s going to start to change it now.” Acknowledging a long history of unjust verdicts in the past, Biden stated, “Such verdict is also much too rare… Officers who fail to serve honorably “must be held accountable. No one should be above the law.”

In addition to Biden’s words, VP Kamala Harris stated, “Today we feel a sigh of relief. This verdict brings us a step closer and the fact is we still have work to do. We still must reform the system […] We are going to make sure his [Floyd’s] legacy is intact and history will look back at this moment and know that it was an inflection moment.”

Former POTUS Barack Obama issued the following statement, “Today, a jury did the right thing. But justice requires much more. Michelle and I send our prayers to the Floyd family, and we stand with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied” (@BarackObama)

There were numerous messages from other leaders, but I will skip them and share a message from Darnella Frazier, the 17-year old black girl from Minneapolis whose video recording greatly contributed to the world’s knowledge of Floyd’s murder. In a Tweet, Frazier welcomed the guilty verdict as follows, “I just cried so hard. This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety bussing through the roof. But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES!!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. George Floyd we did it!!! Justice has been served.” It is a sign of hope realizing that young people, especially blacks and browns who are on the receiving end of racism are doing whatever they can to overcome the violence of silence. Frazier epitomizes the courage of a young person who is able and willing to get in good and necessary trouble to redeem the soul of America. On May 25, 2020, she saw something that was not right and she did something. For that reason, she also deserves some credit for the guilty verdict that allowed the American people and the world to have a good night on April 20 and a good morning.

We are so used to a two-justice system – one for the poor and blacks/browns and another for the rich, famous, and powerful – that many people were not so sure what to expect yesterday. Even President Biden was pleasantly surprised. This is apparent in his statement that, “Such verdict is also much too rare.” The most recent and typical example of the two-system justice was seen in the Trumpublican Senators’ “Not Guilty” verdict in the Senate trial of the twice-impeached President Trump for inciting the January 6, 2021, insurrection. That absurd verdict epitomized Thrasymachus’ sarcastic and controversial definition of justice as what is in “the interest of the stronger” (Plato), meaning might is right. This has been the modus operandi for so long in so many parts of the world. It is also reminiscent of a new and controversial definition of the Golden Rule according to which “those who have the gold make the rules.” The “Guilty” verdict in Floyd’s murder represents a new and redemptory development. Hopefully, it will be remembered as what Harris calls “an inflection moment.”

While it is right to credit the jury, Frazier, and people who played important roles during the Chauvin trial, it is equally right to acknowledge the role played by the global protesters of different social and ethnic backgrounds. Their activist participation has legitimized and added a big momentum to Black Lives Matter as a global movement for racial and socioeconomic justice. The Guilty verdict means that the jury paid a close attention to the overwhelming evidence and the international community’s outrage and condemnation of the police brutality. That outrage and condemnation is apparent in last year’s global and multilingual protest signs that read, for example, 

“I CAN’T BREATHE. JE NE PARVIENS PAS A RESPIRER (in French). WE SHALL BREATHE. BLACK LIVES MATTER. LES VIES NOIRES COMPTENT (in French). LAS VIDAS NEGRAS IMPORTAN (in Spanish). PROTECT BLACK LIVES. RACISM IS THE PANDEMIC THAT HAS BEEN KILLING BLACK PEOPLE FOR CENTURIES.

RASSISMUS TÖTET (in German, meaning RACISM KILLS). CONTRA EL RACISMO (in Spanish = Against Racism). WHY RACISM IS STILL A DEBATE?
ONE RACE: HUMAN.WHITE SILENCE = VIOLENCE. LATINOS FOR BLACK LIVES.
I AM NOT BLACK BUT I WILL STAND AND FIGHT FOR YOU.

STOP DEHUMANIZING BLACK PEOPLE. STOP SYSTEMIC RACISM. THEY RARELY SHOOT OLD WHITE GUYS LIKE ME. #WHITE PRIVILEGE. SKIN IS AN ORGAN, NOT DEATH SENTENCE. IF YOU ARE NOT OUTRAGED, YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.

DR. ZEKEH GBOROKUMA is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Morgan State University and Founder, Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc.

These global responses are indicative of international solidarity and human fraternity. They led to the nomination of BLM for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021. In the nomination letter, the Norwegian MP Petter Eide states, among other things, that he nominated BLM “for their struggle against racism and racially motivated violence.” He believes that “BLM’s call for systemic change has spread around the world, forcing other countries to grapple with racism within their own societies.” Last but not least, these responses are positive signs of a humanity valuing the contents of our character more than the color of our skins; a humanity that is committed to overcoming the globalization of indifference and the violence of silence; a humanity that is calling for the respect of human rights for all, a humanity that can have a positive impact in the way the justice system should work.

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma, Founder, Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc. (PAD) & Associate Professor of Philosophy, Morgan State University. He is the author and editor of Democracy and Demographics in the USA (2020: Paperback: https://amzn.to/2KbcOUV eBook: https://amzn.to/35BsCbN); A Pan-African Encyclopedia (2003) 

CONTACT: Zekeh.Gbotokuma@morgan.edu

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