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This isn’t justice — George Floyd is still dead

The guilty verdict is for one trial. But justice requires more than one cop’s accountability.

In Minneapolis, a person reacted after the verdict was read.
In Minneapolis, a person reacted after the verdict was read.Scott Olson/Getty

I exhaled. And I let the air go slowly. I took a breath in the name of George Floyd.

He gasped for air as Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. While the officers’ hands were in his pocket, Floyd used his fingers, knuckles, and shoulder just to breathe underneath the weight of that cop’s knees.

Tuesday, after one day of deliberation, a jury found Chauvin guilty on all counts. In a rare occurrence, an officer was held accountable for the murder of a Black person in America.

We are relieved. But this is not justice. I do not mistake accountability for justice.

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This country is many things. Just is not one of them. George Floyd should still be here, instead of being made a martyr for social change.

Last year, George Floyd’s daughter declared her daddy was changing the world as protesters in all 50 states took to the streets and declared Black Lives Matter. And in so many ways, he has changed us. He strengthened our resolve to resist, to dismantle, to dare to fight for freedom.

Yet still, I struggle to call this verdict justice.

What does it say about our collective morals if a man must be lynched for 9 minutes and 29 seconds for the world to watch on repeat for a country to consider Black humanity?

Had it not been for Darnella Frazier, a teenager, pressing record and bearing witness to the trauma, where would we be? How many children must carry the weight of racism?

I was a child when I saw the very first viral video of police brutality: Rodney King.

What does it mean, that it took the protests for George Floyd to even shine a light on the killing of Breonna Taylor, who died by police before him? And that we are only just now hearing about Pamela Turner, who was murdered in 2019?

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There is always one more name, one more murder, one more Black life bruised or taken without witnesses or footage every single day.

Chauvin is one man found guilty of one murder. And this case, like Floyd’s lynching, is forever ingrained in American history. The verdict means so much to all of us who every day love our skin but know this country perceives our existence as a threat.

We are justified when we ask questions and are reluctant to face police like Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario, the Army officer who was pepper sprayed, threatened, and demoralized by Virginia officers. We have anger and angst and fear.

Police cannot continue to kill us under the rule of the law. Die or comply cannot be a standard. We cannot afford to have officers who’d rather say a mass shooter was having a bad day than calling anti-Asian hate the racial terror that it is.

Chauvin’s verdict doesn’t end police violence. We may dare to hope it sparks change, meaningful change, not millions of dollars dumped into police reform that only equates to more police and training that never quite keeps cops from killing us.

George Floyd was not the first. And he will not be the last. We’re still dying.

On a Sunday afternoon earlier this month, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by police just miles from Minneapolis. In Chicago, Adam Toledo, 13, was killed by a police last month. His hands were up. That little brown boy, a baby, should be here. Wright should still be here. Floyd should still be here.

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This is our America. A single case can’t end racism, inequity, or the fight for civil rights. There are 361 bills pushing voter suppression. There are over 80 pieces of antitransgender legislation. We can’t even pass the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. On every level, from health care to housing to economics to education, our system was never meant to be just. We have so much work to do and undo.

Justice is a system that doesn’t put Black victims on trial for their own murders. Justice is a country whose framework isn’t rooted in racism and systemic supremacy so deep the inequities are violent to our mental, spiritual, and physical beings. When I say “our,” I mean all humans in America, because none of us know freedom. We cannot know liberty when we can’t even acknowledge we live on stolen land.

The brutalization of Black life, the dehumanization of the lives of people of color, is America’s legacy.

On the day of Floyd’s funeral, I stood in front of Cup Foods, the grocery store at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South, just steps away from where Floyd was murdered by police. It was sticky hot and the sadness hung in the air as sunflowers shone on the ground everywhere.

He died. We cried. And we saw ourselves. We fought for this day, for this moment, for this verdict. And even then, we held our breaths in fear to hear it, every molecule screaming, “George Floyd.” His name filled our lungs as our stomachs soured and we said our prayers.

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Now, we are here. Chauvin is guilty. Amen. Exhale.

His crime may be reflective of a system complicit in police killings, but the verdict is his alone. He could be sentenced to as many as 40 years in prison or more.

But us, America? Have hope. Delight in the moment. Know the work to be done is real. Hundreds of years of oppression means many a revolution before freedom comes.

Our guilt is deep and the journey to justice is long. Our fight to dismantle this system of supremacy is a sentence we must be willing to serve for life.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.