Beyond the US, we held our breath on Tuesday waiting for the jury’s verdict following the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
The former police officer kneeled on the neck of the African American man for more than nine minutes during an arrest in the city of Minneapolis, ignoring pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Mr Floyd was declared dead an hour later.
After an agonising trial where the defence tried to portray Mr Floyd as yet another drug abusing black delinquent who “had it coming”, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell’s closing statement summed up what we all knew: George Floyd died not because his heart was too big or other underlying health issues, but because former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin’s ‘heart was too small’.
On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter following a three-week trial.
The fact that we still had to agonise over the outcome of a trial of a man who had murdered an innocent man in cold blood in broad daylight with helpless bystanders recording him kneeling on his head for a whole nine minutes and 29 seconds tells us all we need to know about the police and justice system in America which decades after the abolishing of slavery still bears the scars of a past where black people were considered no more than chattels.
Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton voiced the feelings of many with his reaction to the verdict as he wrote on social media, “Black voices have been heard and action is happening. When we stand together, we can make a difference. But this is just one step on the path towards a more equal society. Since George’s death, so many other Black people have died at the hands of the police and we must ensure the momentum of today continues. The fight isn’t over, and there is more to be done, but we can consider today a glimmer of hope.”
A glimmer of hope only, as the path to equality is long. Shortly after the guilty verdict was announced, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot by the police in Ohio.
On this side of the pond, Lewis Hamilton has been a vocal spokesperson on Black Lives Matter and the injustices against black people in the UK, another country with an equally difficult past when it comes to racial equality. Incidentally, this week marks the third annual Stephen Lawrence Day, named for the black teenager who was killed in a racist attack on the same day in 1993.
Lawrence, from Plumstead in south-east London, was 18 when he was attacked and killed while waiting for a bus. He did not know his attackers, and they did not know him.
After the initial investigation, five suspects were arrested but not charged. It was suggested that the handling of the case by both the police and Crown Prosecution Service was affected by Lawrence’s race.
22 years after the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder accepted the existence of systemic racism in the UK, the recent report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, led by Dr Tony Sewell, suggested that UK should be seen as model of racial equality. A report that denies institutional racism in a country where black people are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers, where in the early days of the pandemic, 60% of the first NHS doctors and nurses to die were from our BAME communities, and where there are disproportionate rates of school exclusion and arrest among black children.
What’s with the history lesson, you may ask. Well, there’s method to my madness. Early last week a friend posted on her Facebook about her experience of being racially profiled while leaving a store in London, only for her experienced to be questions by a fellow Nigerian. The man in questions has never lived in the UK but was adamant that albeit it rude, the security’s behaviour wasn’t racist – minimising and refuting her true life experience. Even after several people, myself included, tried to explain to him the way subtle questions and microaggressions are loaded with centuries worth of racism and prejudice, he was still adamant that this was merely a case of bad manners and my friend had taken it to heart and was “pulling the race card.”
At this point, I wondered how could you make people of a majority white country understand the everyday existence of a person of colour with all its nuances when someone who shares the same background but lives in a completely different part of the world negates their experience? Next time you end up hearing the experience a fellow Nigerian has had anywhere in the world, before you pass opinion, please pause and consider whether you have enough knowledge or experience of their circumstances – if you’ve walked a mile in their shoes per se – if the answer is no, please refrain from refuting their experience. That’s the worst way you can rob them of the reality of their existence and the best way to make yourself look a fool.
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