Updated: May 1
By AMAYA HENRY | Staff Writer
EDITOR'S NOTE: The thoughts and views expressed in the following commentary were written by the author on the eve of the April 20th jury verdict - before the jurors pronounced Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd.
When I was 17 years old, I often visited my neighborhood gas station and convenience store, in Florida. A gas station I had always felt safe at. One day a clerk there, who was White, accused me of stealing a cheap key chain. I denied it because I didn’t. Another clerk working the register, who was Latina, also didn’t believe me. So, in front of all the other customers, they forced me to empty out my jacket and pants pockets to prove that I didn’t steal anything.
I felt humiliated, embarrassed, vulnerable — and dehumanized. I was the only African-American in the store and had never felt so alone in my life, especially when no one stepped in to help me.
That moment shattered my reality and has deeply impacted me ever since. I realized that racism had infiltrated a place I never thought it would: my hometown. I had to become more aware of my surroundings and carefully think about my every move, because of how others might interpret my actions. All the memories of this traumatic experience have flooded back to me as I follow the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which began on March 29.
I am beyond the point of frustration and anger — as are my family, my friends, and millions of other African-Americans across the country — as people who commit blatant acts of racism and even violence, continue to be given the benefit of the doubt. Where is this same sense of compassion for the African-American victims? In the video of Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, Floyd can be heard pleading for his life and crying for his mother. Where was the compassion then?
It baffles me as to how a crime can be seen on video, yet people still argue against it. Footage shows that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. That’s a fact. Yet, it is being argued that his actions were “justifiable.” Since when was kneeling on someone’s neck ever justifiable?
The list of African-Americans wrongfully murdered by the police is a long one that just continues to grow. Just recently, on April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by former police officer Kimberly Ann Potter who claimed she mistook her gun for a taser. This senseless murder took place less than 15 miles away from where Floyd was murdered. Careless “mistakes” like these are unacceptable because they are costing people their lives.
It is terrifying knowing that members of law enforcement, the people who are supposed to protect us, could kill me or my family members solely based on the color of our skin. I should not have to fear that my father or brothers (or even my future husband and children) could be murdered because they are perceived as a “threat.” I should not have to fear being racially profiled. I should not have to fear being myself.
The outcome of this trial is going to be monumental for the Black community — and for me. If Chauvin is found guilty, some of my faith in the American justice system might be restored, as a form of justice will have been served. On the other hand, if he is found not guilty, all my hope for the future would be diminished. However, regardless of the outcome of the trial, there truly is no happy ending because Floyd’s death could have been easily avoided if the proper procedures had been used. Chauvin being convicted does not bring Floyd back. It doesn’t give his daughter her father back. It doesn’t give his mother her son back. It doesn’t give his girlfriend her partner back.
In reaction to the many protests that occurred following the death of George Floyd, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated, “The voices calling for an end to the killings of unarmed African-Americans need to be heard. The voices calling for an end to police violence need to be heard,” and I couldn’t agree more. We protest to be heard. We take action to be heard. We call on our officials to be heard. We sign petitions to be heard.
And there is still work to be done, as the system itself needs dramatic improvement. What we want is change: change in laws, change in actions, and change in the racist mindset that has loomed over this country for centuries.
I want so badly to have faith in our justice system. But when they have let us down, time and time again, I worry that it’s nearly impossible for me to remain hopeful.