America should not need to bleed for justice

Ajay Patel, Guest Writer

Illustration by Gabrialla Cockerell

The trial of Derek Chauvin concluded on April 20, almost a year after he murdered George Floyd. The 9 minute and 30 second video of Chauvin’s knee pressed against Floyd’s neck, which angered and disgusted millions across the country, was the crux of the prosecution’s case. After closing arguments, Judge Peter Cahill instructed the jury to make a verdict free of bias, prejudice, and outside pressure.

If America hadn’t plunged into mass protests and social unrest after Floyd’s murder, Derek Chauvin would of likely still been an officer today.

Throughout this last year, the outside pressure that this case has had on the jury was perhaps the biggest in legal history since the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial. The jury, who were made up of Minneapolis locals, no doubt saw the mass protests and at times, violent riots that occurred in response to the country seeing the video of former officer Chauvin horrifically kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Though the jury was presented with large amounts of expert testimony, eye-witness accounts, law enforcement testimony, and a 9-minute video of Chauvin killing Floyd, I believe that none of this was extremely substantial, and an abundance evidence would have never made a difference if the American people had not risen in outrage.

This brings about a harsh reality, that this jury, more likely than not, attributed an acquittal to burning cars in the streets, massive protests, and American cities engulfed with tear gas and national guard troops. This was certainly the case this last summer, and as America revolted in force, I find it hard to believe that if it weren’t for response by the American people, Derek Chauvin would not have been charged. Now, if you find this reality frustrating—that the jury was persuaded more by the threat of riots and social unrest rather than the evidence and fact—then you should be mad at the American system. America needed to burn for Floyd to get justice, and it will continue to need to burn for other victims of police brutality to get justice. Americans have stepped up and done what the government can’t for far too long. It’s the idea that if our government can’t ensure justice, the people will. This reality is unfortunate and brings about just how ineffective and unwilling the justice system, politicians, and law enforcement are in ensuring that violent and racist police officers are brought to justice.

Let’s just think about it. The Chauvin verdict was a victory, but the means to which this victory happens shows just how flawed the system of justice is, and how much work still needs to be done. Floyd’s murder changed the political landscape, gave birth to multiple social justice movements, and invoked a great sense of social unrest throughout the country. Yet, we still found ourselves holding our breath on a murder verdict where there was a video of the murder happening. Yes, justice was served, but not merely at the hands of our justice system, but at the hands of the people. Justice was not served because it was the natural implication of what happens when an officer unjustifiably kills a black man, but because America dropped what it was doing and revolted in mass.

If Americans need to protest in mass groups and burn down buildings for a bad cop to get off the street, then we clearly have a huge problem in how justice is served in this country. I hope I reach both sides of the political aisle here. Conservatives will argue that riots and the extreme demands of these social movements will destabilize the American system. Liberals will argue that the system is flawed and needs to be reformed, even replaced. The problem is that the American people should not have to drop what they are doing and go protest and riot to make sure justice is served; our system should effectively do that for us. If the people need to result to means of unrest and anarchy to make sure police officers are held accountable for the crimes they commit, then law and order truly does not exist, and the American system we have regarding law enforcement and justice wasn’t stable in the first place.

I hope that what you get from this is that next time you see mass protests and buildings burning due to an instance of police brutality, not to be angry at the people doing it, but at the fact that at this time in our country, these means are perhaps the only proven way we can get justice for a black man murdered by the cops.

Our justice system is in place so that the people can trust that the government can ensure justice, law, and order. The reason we have courts and due process is so we can ensure that people are held accountable for their actions, no matter who they are. I hope that one day, we see a sense of natural accountability in our police and justice system; that an arrest and conviction would not be based on one of the largest protests in history or based on fear of what the public would do if justice were served. I say this because the harsh reality is, that while America worked so hard to get justice for George Floyd, countless other Black Americans alone were denied justice. I hope that accountability just happens. I hope to one day have a system that puts consequences of wrongdoing by police officers into precedent. I hope that it would no longer take America having to burn for a black man to get justice.