Justice & Accountability Ending Systemic Racism
A reflection 48 hours after the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial
by Democratic Party of Oregon Vice Chair and Black Caucus Chair, Rosa Colquitt, PhD
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Within minutes of the announcement of the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, leaders here in Oregon and nationwide were swift to release statements in response to the conviction. In the moments that followed, as my mental and emotional exhaustion subsided, along with the lump in my throat, I listened attentively to what our political leaders had to say about justice, accountability, and future steps to achieving systemic change. I also decided I needed some time to think about the real implications of what the nation had just witnessed.
Now, 48 hours after Chauvin’s verdict, I still feel a tremendous sense of relief and thankfulness, but also much sadness. My continuing sense of sadness is for the loss of Mr. Floyd’s life, made all the more painful as I consider the humiliating, agonizing death he was subjected to, in full public view. Throughout the trial, I remained hopeful that the jury would render a justifiable, rare verdict of guilty, but I also steeled myself for “justice denied” yet again – a not guilty verdict, and the feckless justifications that would accompany it.
As a Black mother and an activist, I see the Black experience in America through a lens polished with the tears shed over hard-fought battles: for equal opportunity and equal rights; for equal treatment before the law and on the job; for Black voices to be heard, not suppressed, at the ballot box; and for fairness and justice in the criminal justice system. I am heartened by the words in a statement by former President Barack Obama, who reminded the American people that, “if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial. True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day.”
Most Black Americans and other people of color would not be surprised to learn that since 2015, police officers have shot at least 135 unarmed Black people in the United States, and seldom face internal discipline, let alone criminal convictions. Since the Chauvin trial began on March 29th, more than three people each day have been killed by police in America, most of them Black, Latino and young – many of whom are suffering from drug abuse, mental illness and despair, with few resources at their disposal.
The problem of systemic racism in America goes much deeper than individual police officers using their uniquely protected monopoly on violence to tyrannize and murder Blacks and other people of color. Historically, many white Americans have been quick to view and to fear Black Americans, especially Black men, as dangerous. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner are just a few of the thousands of Black men who have lost their lives in the name of this slander.
This racist stereotype has infected governments, corporations, media, and community organizations at various points throughout American history. It has birthed countless discriminatory policies that have subjected Black Americans to disproportionate rates of poverty and tremendous disparities in health care, employment, housing, and most notably to deadly racial profiling by law enforcement.
As noted historian Ibram X. Kendi wrote in his 2016 national award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning, inequality and racism in this country have a long and lingering history. Dr. Kendi’s words this week, following Derek Chauvin’s conviction, bear repeating here:
“Justice is not closing the cell door on Chauvin. Justice is closing the door on racist narratives and policies that endangered Floyd, that still endangers Black people, that endangers America. Justice is opening the door to an anti-racist future … where I no longer live in fear, where Americans no longer live in fear of me. Justice has convicted America. Now we must put in the time transforming this nation.”
I share Dr. Kendi’s perspective with great conviction. I believe profoundly that the guilty verdict against Chauvin – a small measure of justice affirming that the life of a Black man, George Floyd, mattered – is an inflection moment in the next step forward to achieving systemic change in America.
I call upon the members of the Democratic Party of Oregon, all elected officials, and all Oregonians, as one action among many, to passionately lobby to enact the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” Let’s be clear: This bill will NOT remedy all of the systemic inequalities of the criminal justice system, but it will commit our nation’s government to enacting national standards to transform our justice system and to hold law enforcement accountable across a wide range of policies and issues. For example, it will facilitate federal enforcement of constitutional violations, limit qualified immunity as a defense to liability in private civil actions, prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels, ban no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds and more. If passed, the legislation will also create a national police misconduct registry to make it easier to track incidents of abuse by police officers.
Stepping back for a bit, after the immediate, overwhelming reaction to the successful prosecution of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder, I recognize that my feelings about true justice and accountability come as much from my family upbringing as they do from my politics. In all matters of life, I am driven by my passion and commitment to the decency, respect and justice that I try to exemplify as a mother. I have a beautiful, precious son who I adore and genuinely admire. George Floyd, too, was a mother’s beloved son. He died with her name on his lips. We must all work together to make sure that no family ever again loses their loved one to murderous police misconduct.
I concur with the sentiments echoed across America by President Biden, Vice President Harris, and many of our other elected officials shortly following the announcement of what they believed to be the right verdict in the Chauvin trial, the necessary step on the road to progress. Most importantly, our leaders have been clear that “a measure of justice is not the same as equal justice.” We must heal the pain that has existed for generations by ending systemic racism in our country.
Rosa Colquitt, PhD
Vice Chair, Democratic Party of Oregon
Chair, Democratic Party of Oregon Black Caucus