On Tuesday April 20, 2021, thirteen months after the modern day lynching in Minnesota of George Floyd, now disgraced former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder on all counts. As many celebrated the verdict last week, we at the NAACP New Jersey State Conference understand and respect the need to rejoice, but our reaction was that of relief. It goes without saying that we are happy for the Floyd family, and for the Black community, that one of the “bad apples” finally has to answer for their maltreatment of our people and the disregard of their oath to protect and serve all people. Unfortunately, due to the countless number of acquittals when there has been indisputable video evidence, eye witness accounts, and more, we know that a conviction isn’t a certainty when Black people are the victims.
The aforementioned relief, is due largely to the fact that a guilty verdict meant no arrests or injuries to our community and allies at protests. Time and time again we react to unarmed murders with peaceful, legal protests, and are still met with riot gear, vitriol and violence by law enforcement officers. People marching for justice receive more aggression and are deemed more dangerous, than actual mass murderers armed with assault rifles. For Black people in America, peace begets violence, and calls for justice, beget symbolism.
At our 2018 Annual State NAACP Convention, Author, Educator and Gala Keynote, Ilyasah Shabazz recited a quote by her father Malcolm X that perfectly captures our sentiments regarding the Derek Chauvin verdict in 2021. “My father said, you don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.” To date, hundreds if not thousands of officers have literally gotten away with murder, so is a conviction progress? Absolutely. Now does an officer need to kneel on a Black person’s neck close to ten minutes in broad daylight in order to be convicted, a sign of progressive change? Absolutely not. The guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin on all counts was due process; finally. A modicum of justice rarely rendered by a racist system. So we must ask, how relieved can anyone possibly be when unarmed and unjust murders of people of African descent occurred during the Chauvin trial and on the day of the verdict?
Consequently, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference has only intensified our fight for police reform and accountability following that guilty verdict. Our mission, is for a day where no other names are added to the long list of unarmed Black people murdered or brutalized by tax funded law enforcement officers. If you truly believe that the lives of Black people have value and deserve respect, then we need your help fighting to pass the legislation that directly impacts Black lives in our state. Social media posts and lawn signs are great for raising awareness, but our collective efforts must be directed towards policy change. We can’t change the hearts of those like Derek Chauvin, but we can create laws with meaningful consequences that change their immunity to the legal and societal scrutiny currently reserved for civilians.
Hope changes atmosphere, symbolism changes narrative, but accountability changes decisions.