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Derek Chauvin guilty verdict: One swallow doth not a summer make

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Yesterday, in this space, we expressed cautious hope that the rare guilty verdict against white, former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the murder of Mr George Floyd, a black man, would herald change in the way American cops deal with African Americans.

It is indeed cautious hope, because, like Aristotle, how well do we know that one swallow doth not a summer make.

It's been a long time that racist US cops have declared open season on black men with impunity behind a protective “blue wall of silence”.

Indeed, even while the most-watched trial since that of O J Simpson, perhaps, was underway, a white woman cop earlier this month killed Mr Daunte Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old black man, at a traffic stop, saying she had meant to tase, not shoot him.

While we are celebrating the guilty verdict, there is a troubling feeling about the whole episode that still lingers — that it took the entire planet watching this psychopathic cop literally drain the life out of a handcuffed black man and a phalanx of his superior officers testifying against him to secure a conviction on all counts.

That is an unreasonably high burden to meet to secure a conviction in the death of a black man. It underlines the profound devaluation of the lives of black people in the US, and President Joe Biden might be right that the verdict “can be a giant step forward”, but “is not enough”.

Speaking after the verdict alongside his vice-president, Ms Kamala Harris, Mr Biden said: “We can't stop here,” and both called on Congress to act swiftly to address policing reform.

Beyond that, the president urged the entire country to confront hatred to “change hearts and minds as well as laws and policies”, saying: “ 'I can't breathe.' Those were George Floyd's last words. We can't let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can't turn away.”

Ms Harris, the first black woman to serve as vice-president of the United States, said something the rest of the world has known forever — that racism was keeping the country from fulfilling its founding promise of “liberty and justice for all”, and that: “It is not just a black America problem or a people of colour problem; it is a problem for every American… A measure of justice isn't the same as equal justice.”

Still, what gives us a measure of hope, even as cautious as we have said, is that the verdict has come after the largest global outpouring of rage and condemnation of the murder of a black man by cops, after Mr Chauvin was flashed around the world pressing his knee into Mr Floyd's neck last May.

The incident notably garnered significant support for the victim from a large number of whites and non-black minorities, including Asians, who traditionally steer very clear of any controversy.

We have also seen for the first time that a white president has overtly taken on the black cause at more than surface level, or just paying lip service. For example, beyond pledging to tackle systemic racism and appointing minorities to his Cabinet, Mr Biden has set up a commission to examine the issue of reparation for slavery.

These moves are unprecedented and speak to a not insignificant wind of change. We'll take that for now.