Nobody Knows What Justice For George Floyd Looks Like — Because Black People Have Never Had It

Photo: Ben Von Klemperer /Shutterstock  
protestors await chauvin verdict, carrying a painting of george floyd

The morning of Tuesday, April 20, 2021 started out as any regular day would. I got up, washed my hands, said a prayer, brushed my teeth, prepared my green tea, and started to work. 

It was not an exceptional day — working from home during the pandemic made every hour bleed into the next. Days seem like they float by.

But there was a buzz in the air. We knew a decision in the Derek Chauvin trial was near, and, as folks from my neighborhood would say, “we were waiting for sh*t to jump off.”

This was not only a trial about a police officer killing an unarmed Black man, but one about race, whiteness, Blackness, the law, and essentially life in America. The stakes were extremely high. To be honest, I hadn’t felt so much anxiety in the air about a verdict since Trayvon Martin’s killer was found "not guilty".

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I tried to stay away from the trial as much as possible. Reading and hearing about another Black man’s demise was something my mental health didn’t need, but the news was unescapable.

Everywhere I turned, there were discussions, updates, and talk about it. Will Derek Chauvin be found guilty? How many Black people are on the jury? Will white folks get it right? The death of George Floyd and the fall out seeped into every part of life and my life.

As a Black man, seeing Floyd — like any other Black person — being killed in that manner scars you.

No matter where you are from, how you were raised, and what you have been through, viewing the moment that Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck and murdered him hits you in a way that very few things can.

Finally, I surrendered and got sucked into the news.

From a logical perspective, the murder of George Floyd by former officer Derek Chauvin should be a no-brainer, one of those rare slam dunk cases that should have not even been brought to trail.

Here is the video, here is the evidence, here's how it violated the law — boom! Guilty.

But, because Floyd was a Black man and Chauvin was a white cop, nothing is guaranteed; anything can happen.

This is a facet of Blackness many don't understand: it doesn’t matter that you are the victim, the one who is attacked, or the person who is on the receiving end of the aggression. Because of the color of your skin, the benefit of innocence is something that you will never be afforded.

So, we waited, analyzing all of the testimony of Floyd’s girlfriend, Chauvin’s fellow police officers, medical examiners, and witnesses to the murder. Going over every detail, every word.

Would America give whiteness the benefit of the doubt as they have always seemed to have done, or is it possible there could be a semblance of justice?

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When the jury came back with the decision, I remember holding my phone, staring at the screen, holding my breath, my hand almost shaking, waiting for the verdict.

When the first count of guilty was said, I thought, “Wow.”

Then as the other guilty verdicts were read, I smiled and repeated “Wow.”

I put my phone down and shook my head with a smile. He was actually found guilty.

After the verdict, I got a call from my brother. He was excited.

“He got all the counts!” I smiled as we talked. My brother is a four time father of three Black boys and one Black girl. The oldest is 13, 5’7 and growing everyday.

I worry about him because I know how the world will perceive my nephew. He could be the most non-threatening Black boy you could find and yet, the police will find a reason to view him as dangerous.

As a 42-year-old man, my concern is not of my life, but the young Black boys coming behind me. Their lives potentially cut short because of a white cop’s irrational fear of them.

You can teach Black boys all the ways they should behave when the police pull them over, but the end of the day, none of that really matters; it is a life or death decision by the police at that point.

It's a sobering reality that I cannot do anything about.

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A lot of people online opining about the verdict, specifically folks who don't share my skin color, said, “This isn’t justice”.

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What is justice, then? The truth is, no one knows — because Black people have never had it.

We are a people that have been deprived of basic human rights, so forgive us for actually having a moment in the sun.

Folks who are not Black will never understand the fear of being pulled over by a police officer wondering “Is this it? Will I go home?” You don’t grasp the paranoia that comes with being searched, arrested, and possibly murdered.

You don’t get how powerful it is to see an officer of the law convicted of killing someone unarmed that looks like you.

Yes, true justice would mean bringing Floyd back to life. True justice would mean that I don't need to be worried if I interact with a cop, wondering if I live or not and worrying the same for my nephews and my niece.

True justice is living in a world free of racism/white supremacy/anti-Blackness. So, in that respect, no. There is no justice.

However, I can say that the scales tipped to Black America and equality for the first time in a long time. And it felt good.

The next day I took a stroll around Oakland, California and saw many store fronts boarded up. I looked around and realized it was because people feared a not guilty verdict.

This is America: folks have so little faith in a justice system that has continuously denied basic human rights to Black folks that if Derek Chauvin was found not guilty, the entire city would be in unrest and plenty of white people would blame those expressing their frustration and call it "uncivil".

This also proves what I have always thought — there is no ignorance to racism. People know exactly what is right and what was at stake here.

When I think about George Floyd’s murder and the journey to get Derek Chauvin convicted, I have sad, exhausted thoughts about everything, even in a moment when I wish I felt pure hope for our future.

It pains me that Black people have to work tirelessly to get justice.
It pains me that even with video and witnesses, we were holding our breath for a just verdict.
It pains me to look at young Black boys and wonder if they will still meet the same fate as George Floyd.
It pains me to realize that justice is almost never met.

This is a victory for the protestors that worked tirelessly in the streets, giving donations, marching, documenting the moment, and never letting racists dominate the narrative.

Most importantly, this is a victory for Black people.

Lets take a breath, hug our love ones, rest, and began to fight tomorrow, because there is always another battle to be waged.

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LeRon L. Barton is a writer and speaker who has published essays about race, mass incarceration, politics, business, and dating. His work has appeared in Black Enterprise, Salon, Raconteur, The Good Men Project, Multibriefs, and The EastBay Express. He has also appeared on Al Jazeera's The Stream and delivered a TEDx talk about his childhood stuttering. Find him on Twitter for more.