Sasha Perkins ‘22
After hearing almost a year of debate about how George Floyd died, why he died, and if he should have died, one question remains: “why does it matter?”. Why does it matter if a black man was high when he was killed? Why does it matter if he was resisting? Why does it matter if he was guilty? All too often we put black men – the VICTIMS of police brutality – on trial instead of their killers. This learning moment in our nation’s history is a time to turn the lens of accountability away from victims and on onto the people and institutions that perpetrate this behavior.
Over the past month, we have heard Derek Chauvin’s defense attempt to put George Floyd on trial time and time again. They called witnesses testifying that Floyd was killed by an opioid addiction, or somehow high blood pressure took his life. Despite video evidence from multiple angles, the courts continue to preserve this method of defense: “the victim was not slaughtered by the defendant, he slaughtered himself.”
However, the courts are not the only ones responsible for this unjust distribution of accountability. America has a culture of victim blaming: leaving your car unlocked is practically an excuse for thieves to steal it, forgetting to close your kitchen window is an invitation for robbery, and a young women “asks for” rape when she wears provocative clothing. Victims carry the heavy weight of shame on their shoulders as they attempt to rebuild the dignity their perpetrator and society took from them. It’s time for us to turn the lenses of blame into mirrors onto ourselves for reinforcing this behavior. Something as simple as referring to these past few weeks as the “George Floyd trial” subconsciously puts George Floyd on trial. In addition to saying names to honor the victims of police brutality (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd Daute Wright, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatianna Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Freddie Gray, Janisha Fonville, Eric Gardner, Akai Gurley, Gabriella Nevarez, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Tanisha Anderson), we must hold their murderers accountable by saying their names: Brett Hankinson, Derek Chauvin, Kimberly Ann Potter, Garret Rolfe, Mark Vaughn, Aaron Dean, David Reid, Terrence Mercadal, Amber Guyger, Jeronimo Yanez, Blane Salamoni, Percy Dupra, Anthony Holzhauer, Daniel Pantaleo, Peter Liang, Timothy Loehmann, Darren Wilson, Scott Aldridge, and Bryan Myers.
Furthermore, as the world watches the Derek Chauvin trial unfold, I hold out hope for a conviction. I want to believe justice is possible and that the jurors will see the agonizing video we have all watched on repeat and affirm that Chauvin is guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. However, hope is risky. We are constantly reminded that the system often protects those it was designed to serve, and rarely serves justice to the citizens who need it most. American history is damning testimony of how people of color have been forced to emotionally detach to protect themselves from heart-wrenching disappointment. The killers of Rodney King, Travon Martin, and Philando Castille all walked free despite overwhelming evidence against them.
George Floyd’s death was caught on multiple cameras from many different angles by smartphones with high quality audio and video. While I hope that the jurors will use their own eyes and ears for the truth, I am hesitant to be confident they won’t acquit.