As the guilty verdicts for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were read in court Tuesday afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief.
That feeling, however, was short-lived; it faded faster than the nine-and-a-half minutes in which Chauvin applied his knee to the neck of George Floyd on that day last May.
For sure, the guilty verdicts offered a modicum of justice for the Floyd family. And perhaps they moved us closer to the accountability and reform that millions marched for during last year’s summer of civil unrest.
But they don’t erase a troubling set of facts.
I’m still a Black man. I still live in Chicago, my hometown. And Black men in America, particularly in Chicago, are more likely to be killed by police than anyone else — and far more likely than their white counterparts.
It’s a fact illustrated by the constant accounts of Black men being killed by police and bolstered by numerous experiences of negative encounters with police — being stopped, questioned, searched, arrested and, in some cases, brutalized. The majority of Black men have such a story — or stories — to tell.
A day before the verdicts, the Washington Post released data on fatal police shootings in the U.S. since 2015. Nationwide, the rate of Black men being shot and killed by police is roughly two-and-a-half times more than the rate for white men, an analysis of the data shows.
Right now, all eyes are focused on Hennepin County, Minn. — where Floyd was murdered and where, earlier this month, another Black man, Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer. But Chicago can claim the dubious title of being the capital of American cities where Black men are killed by police. Since 2015, according to the Washington Post data, more Black men have been killed by police in Chicago than any other American city — Quintonio LeGrier, in 2015; Pierre Loury (no relation), in 2016; Chad Robertson, in 2017; and Harith Augustus, in 2018, just to name a few.
In the last six years, 33 Black men have been shot and killed by police in Chicago compared to just one white man, by far the widest gap in the country, the data shows.
Thirty-three to one.
Floyd’s murder and Chauvin’s trial — and countless other events like them — are personal for me and most Black men.
It’s not a far-fetched proposition that if we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and under the wrong circumstances, what happened to Floyd could happen to any one of us.
The Washington Post data makes it clear that there will very likely be more George Floyds. Almost 200 Black men across the country have been killed by police since Floyd was murdered, the data shows.
Chauvin’s arrest didn’t save those Black men, and his conviction won’t prevent future tragedies.
As some suggested in the aftermath of the verdicts, the real fight still lies ahead.
But that fight is bigger than Floyd’s murder. It won’t be won solely through legislation or training. It’s about more than police accountability and the use of force. And it extends beyond the arenas of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
The real fight is against systemic racism across practically every facet of life, and it involves all of us. Systemic racism dwells in policing, but it also festers in education, housing, the economy and other areas that increase police interactions in Black communities.
We’ve resisted the fight against systemic racism for centuries. We’ve appeased ourselves with signs of “progress,” but history has exposed the consequences of our inaction.
We ended the bondage of slavery, but we imprison more people than any nation on the globe — with Black men being incarcerated more than anyone else in America.
We ended poll taxes, grandfather clauses and other elements of Jim Crow that prevented Black people from voting, but we gerrymander voting districts and employ voter-suppression methods, like voter ID laws, that disproportionately impact Black communities.
During the civil rights movement, we ended legalized segregation in education, housing and public accommodation. Today, we’re just as segregated as we were 50 years ago as the growing presence of Black people in neighborhoods, schools and even shopping malls seems to drive white people away.
We ended redlining, where the federal government literally drew red lines around Black neighborhoods and deemed them too risky for home loans. The redlining maps are gone today, yet banks still are far less likely to provide mortgages in Black communities compared to white communities.
That doesn’t sound like progress.
We’ve simply become more sophisticated in the ways that we oppress marginalized people — less overt, more calculated, same results.
Our systems and institutions are made up of real people — people who make judgments and decisions. Those same people have been influenced by a culture where Black people are often the subjects of doubts, suspicions and fears.
Whether due to ignorance, constant reinforcement or something much darker, we’ve all had thoughts or taken actions based upon stereotypical views of Black people. And the compounding weight of those judgments and decisions can have a profound impact.
None of us are immune. It’s part of the air we breathe as Americans.
Defeating racism must be an authentic, consistent and collective cause — unlike the flash of public pronouncements that flooded the so-called “racial reckoning” of last summer.
Reckoning only comes when we’ve been truly honest with ourselves, acknowledging our past failures. Then true reform will follow, but only after we’ve put in the really hard work to change.
Thus far, we haven’t done enough of either.
Defeating racism is the only way to ensure that we prevent more horrific incidents like the one that claimed George Floyd’s life.
It’s a fight that should be personal for all of us.
Alden Loury is the senior editor of WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow him @AldenLoury.