331 days after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, the world paused to tune into the reading of the verdict for the case, The State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin. After roughly eleven hours of jury deliberation (actually quite speedy for a criminal case of this magnitude), Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges he was being tried on – second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. This verdict would mark the first time that a white police officer in Minneapolis would face jail time for his actions while on-duty. Previously, the only Minneapolis police officer who had faced jail time was a black officer who had killed a white woman, serving as further proof that race continually plays a vital role in who does and does not get the privilege of justice in the United States.
As the ACLU has pointed out though (among many others), the conviction of Derek Chauvin does not equate to justice for George Floyd, but accountability. What would justice look like in this scenario? Well, it would mean George Floyd still being alive today, still filling his role as a father, brother, son, friend, and fiancé to those who meant the most to him. The deaths of other Black individuals by the hands of police, including Duante Wright in Minneapolis, MN and 13 year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, IL that occurred while the Chauvin trial was taking place, further proves all of the work that must be done with regards to policing and gun laws in the United States. All of the attention that the #BlackLivesMatter movement got in June 2020 (sparked of course, by footage of George Floyd’s murder) was a step in the right direction to educate the masses. While the movement brought visibility to minority-owned businesses and many of the systemic injustices faced by minorities, it did not usher in any type of revolutionary systemic change. Otherwise, people like Adam Toledo and Duante Wright would still be alive today.
Let’s take a look at the history of policing in the United States, and how that backstory continues to influence modern police brutality.
A Look Back at the Roots of Policing
At its core, the United States has always been a nation reliant on racism. The institution of slavery made racism a profitable commodity, so much so that mortgages were frequently taken out on slaves, directly influencing overseas economic markets (for more on this, tune into the 1619 New York Times audio series). Meanwhile, the cruel treatment of slaves laid the foundations of today’s hyper-capitalist American society, and played a hand in turning the United States from a cluster of colonies into the powerful, developed (albeit, not always respectable) nation that it is today. In order to preserve the profitable slavery system, policing institutions were founded across the south, which operated with the main intent of chasing down runaway slaves and preventing slave revolts. By the time the Civil War had ended and the Reconstruction Era rolled around, sheriffs and police officers in the south held to the values of early slave catchers, enforcing segregation and minimizing opportunities for freed slaves.
In addition to the roots of racial profiling, it’s important to look at the history of corruption in police forces as well. As the late 19th and early 20th century brought an influx of immigrants through Ellis Island, communities afraid of shifting ethnicity populations called for law and order, leading to an uptick in policing. At the time, police captains and sergeants were typically selected by the ward leader of a local political party. This meant that the police had the power to turn a blind eye or use excess force where needed in the name of the party they were affiliated with.
Today, the police uphold systems of racial bias perpetuated by the United States’ criminal justice system at large. Invaluable resources on the topic include books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. To see this in action though, you only have to look as far as a case like Breonna Taylor’s. Breonna, a 26 year-old Black woman, was fatally shot while sleeping in her Louisville, KY apartment during a botched police raid. The bullets that killed Breonna were six of the thirty two that plainclothes police shot in response to a warning shot that Breonna’s boyfriend had let out, under the impression that the police were intruders. The officers who shot Breonna were tried, but never indicted for their crimes – which raises the question – would Derek Chauvin had even been arrested if it weren’t for the videos capturing the entire 9+ minutes he knelt on George Floyd’s neck?
So – it’s clear that these systemic issues are still very much present in our society. Unfortunately, it can take generations to shift cultural views and systemic problems, regardless that people have been putting in the work to draw attention to racial inequalities and police brutality for years. While supporting minority businesses and sharing information on social media is a good first step, it can feel nearly impossible to make a dent in issues that are upheld by powerful infrastructures. But, as we’ve spoken to in other blogs, being simply “not racist” isn’t enough. It’s in anti-racist actions that individuals and community groups can influence a broader change.
Leveling Up – Steps to Be Anti-Racist
Eric Deggans from NPR shares some steps that we can all take to be anti-racist, and more directly influence the larger systems at play. As Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says, “Everybody’s got to be an activist. It’s not enough to just give. You have to at least find some way to stand up and participate,” Lieberman said.
Tip #1: Accept that we’ve all been raised in a society that elevates white culture over others. Being anti-racist will mean first challenging those notions inside yourself.
This step is all about identifying and unlearning biases. No matter where you grew up in the United States, you were almost definitely exposed to some sort of anti-black bias. It perpetuates not only communities, but the media that we consume as well. Everyone has some sort of unconscious bias to identify within themselves. Once this is identified, a person (particularly white people), can go through the stages of understanding just how severely systemic racism impacts our surroundings, our own thoughts, and more. It can be a taxing process, but nowhere near as taxing as the fear and racism that Black Americans are expected to deal with day in and day out.
Tip #2: Learn the history of racism and anti-racism, especially in America, to educate yourself about the complexities of the issues you’ll be confronting.
We’ve already given you a head start in this blog! In order to ensure the mistakes of the past don’t repeat themselves, it’s imperative to study history. Books that Deggans suggest for reading up on how America got to be where it’s at with racism include, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist to Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.
Deggan also points out a critically important note for white people: “When people of color share their experiences with white supremacy, believe them.” Remember that, if you are reading this as a white ally, you will never have to experience racism firsthand. Much like in the way you wouldn’t doubt a survivor of sexual assault, it’s critical to raise the voices, and not be dismissive of, people of color when they share their experiences.
Tip #3: Seek out films and TV shows which will challenge your notions of race and culture and dive in deeply, learning to see anti-racism in new ways.
Films and television by Black writers, producers, and directors can be essential to further understanding the Black experience, and sparking dialogue around the topic. Yes, these mediums and narratives are scripted, but they can still serve to challenge ideologies and biases without putting further emotional burden on people of color. Films and television can cater to the collective blind spot many of us share when it comes to racism, without asking people of color to do the work for us.
Tip #4: Find local organizations involved in anti-racism efforts – preferably led by people of color – and help uplift their voices and ideas.
Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Well, so does anti-racism. That being said, it’s important to look at your own spheres of individual influence, and see where you have the most impact. To help figure this out, Deegan prompts the following questions:
- When you sit down at a PTA meeting at your child’s school, which parents do you speak with and get to know?
- At work, are you considering how procedures or strategies may advantage whiteness, and are you helping to challenge them?
- Are you spending money with businesses that are owned by non-white people?
- If you or a relative has a rental property, are you seriously considering applications from non-white people?
All of this unlearning can seem overwhelming initially, but it’s on us as a society to reject the status quo, and instead embrace ideas that have traditionally been seen as “too extreme” when it comes to anti-racism. At HelloPrenup, we strive to call attention to racial disparities and injustices, and are working to revolutionize prenups to remove notions of class privilege associated with them.
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