The Chauvin verdict
seemed like a victory. Then came the racist reaction to the verdict—and the
murder of Ma’Khia Bryant.
White supremacy never stops. It never takes a day off. Its
forces never quit the field of battle, even after a defeat. White supremacy
doesn’t retreat; it retrenches.
On April 20, a Minneapolis jury found former police officer
Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. The verdict came after months
of nationwide protests and a three-week trial that was carried live on cable
news. Chauvin’s conviction was the absolute minimum form of justice for Floyd’s
family, but even that conviction was too much for some white nationalists.
Hours after the verdict, white supremacist spokesperson Tucker Carlson went on
television and suggested that the jury convicted Chauvin only because they were
intimidated by the threat of “rioting” and property damage. Then he had a
meltdown, which devolved into maniacal laughter, when a guest on his own show
made the case for Chauvin’s guilt.
Other white-wing forces have taken the more subtle tack of
arguing that the Chauvin verdict is proof that the criminal justice system
“works.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board, for instance, took the
opportunity to suggest that justice was always the likely outcome and that the
protests that sprang up after Floyd’s murder were both wrong and unnecessary.
Still other white commentators, like Ben Shapiro, have been promoting the idea
that Black people are never satisfied and that a culture of victimhood prevents
us from being happy with the outcome of the Chauvin trial. As always, white
supremacists are pretty sure Black people should just be happy to be here, and
any one of us who is not smiling and thankful under the yoke of unending white
rule is a dangerous Negro who should go back to somewhere else.
The police, the people empowered to turn systemic racism
into state-sponsored terrorism, remain totally unbowed by the conviction of a single
cop. At the very moment the verdict against Chauvin was being read in
Minneapolis, police in Columbus, Ohio, shot 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant to
death. Cops couldn’t wait until the close of business on the day George Floyd’s
family found some measure of justice before killing another Black person.
I am obligated to say that Bryant was brandishing what
appeared to be a kitchen knife at the moment she was shot by the police. I have
to say that because, if I don’t, some white people will inevitably accuse me of
avoiding the issue, and the very worst will accuse me of smearing the officer.
I have to say that because the existence of that knife is why the officer will
never be brought to justice. I have to surface the cop’s justification for
gunning down a teenager less than a minute after arriving on the scene because
the guardians of white ascendancy will simply not allow me to declare that
shooting a Black teenage girl is a crime.
That’s the relentlessness of white supremacy. Every trauma
must be dissected, every pain must be justified, and the prevailing white
majority claims the sole right to determine whether those pains and traumas are
legitimate, as if white people are the sovereigns of reality itself.
Even in the privacy of my own mind, the knowledge that most
white people can only see the horrors of their police if Black people die in
the appropriate, submissive way gnaws at me. When I saw the body camera footage
of Bryant’s death, I exclaimed, “Damn it”—not because they killed another Black
person who should have been allowed to live but because I knew they’d get away
Black people are always on trial. We are always being
policed: in how we fight, how we mourn, and how we die. We are always being
asked to produce evidence for why we should be allowed to live, and we can be
beaten or killed at a moment’s notice should we fail to give the right answer.
And we’re never given one day of peace.
*Elie Mystal is The Nation’s justice
correspondent—covering the courts, the criminal justice system, and
politics—and the force behind the magazine’s monthly column “Objection!” He
is also an Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center. He can be followed
The Fear Black
The voices of racism
and white supremacy are louder than ever, and Black employees — and customers,
suppliers, and investors — are living with a primal, existential fear. It’s not hard to understand why: Those who attacked the U.S.
Capitol on January 6 included middle-class, middle-aged accountants, doctors,
lawyers, shop owners, and even CEOs: