21/04/2021

A victory for the civil rights movement in the US

2 min
A group of people celebrating the verdict finding Derek Chauvin guilty in the death of George Floyd yesterday in Minneapolis.

The conviction of police officer Dereck Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is so unusual in the United States that it has become a victory for the civil rights movement. The president of the country himself, Joe Biden, admitted that the verdict was "much too rare", since before this case there had been many in which police had shot and killed unarmed African-Americans and there had hardly ever been a conviction. In many cases there was never even a trial. It took a nine-minute viral video of Floyd dying with Chauvin's knee crushing his neck and saying "I can't breathe" and a wave of riots and demonstrations across the country under the slogan Black Lives Matter for a jury to finally have the courage to convict a police officer of murder. Also important in Floyd's case was the witness in the trial of the Minneapolis police chief, the first African-American to hold the post, who made it clear that Chauvin had violated all protocols in his actions.

To get a sense of the historic nature of the sentence, one need only consider that, by the count of criminologist Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a case of a person shot to death by police has only a one in 2,000 chance of conviction. In fact, since 2005, only 140 cases have gone to trial, and of those, only seven have resulted in a guilty verdict. Needless to say, most of the victims were black. That's why on Wednesday the United States breathed a sigh of relief with the jury's verdict, since an acquittal would have provoked an explosion of rage from the African-American community.

The Floyd case, and also his trial, have served to highlight the structural racism nestled in many U.S. institutions, and particularly in its police. The hope is that this case will be a turning point that will put an end to police impunity, but not only. This impunity is only possible because racism extends throughout the judiciary, from prosecutors to judges. In 2008 it seemed that, with the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House, things might begin to really change. But the reality is that this problem has remained entrenched because cultural changes are, unfortunately, much slower.

Seen from Europe, the ease with which American police shoot unarmed people is incomprehensible (it is estimated that 1,000 people die every year in the United States as a result of being shot by the forces of law and order), but it is better understood if we know that until now the convictions were the exception to the exception. If from now on the necessary measures are taken so that the judicial system does not protect this police violence, which especially punishes minorities, it is to be hoped that at least what the movement's slogan calls for will become a reality, which is only that the lives of black people also matter.