In the closing arguments in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, Steven Schleicher emphasized on behalf of the state of Minnesota: “This is not a police prosecution.”
Schleicher underlined the point to the jury: “To be very clear, this case is referred to as” State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin “, this case is not referred to as” State of Minnesota vs. the police “.”
This argumentative approach, of course, has caught fire from critics who have pushed focus out of the police system in America as a whole, which they believe is in dire need of reform, even a complete overhaul or abolition, and all of the problems with one Projected uncontrolled state – sponsored racist police violence against Chauvin, one of the proverbial bad apples. Indeed, Schleicher insisted that Chauvin’s murderous acts were “non-police,” while critics view his use of excessive and fatal as precisely definitive for the standard police force.
Rashawn Ray, Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, noted, “The way the political establishment approaches this process is through the legitimacy of policing and the legal system to rehabilitate and strengthen. ”
Strategically, of course, because of the way our legal system works, one can understand the approach in the prosecutor’s concluding arguments. Undoubtedly, they wanted to appeal to jury members who sympathized with the police, who may not be ready to convict an official of the law, or who may be reluctant to give a verdict against the entire system. And, of course, our courts are designed to prosecute specific individual actors, not our legal and prosecution system as a whole, of which the courts belong.
Ray emphasizes this dynamic in our criminal justice system: “In court, individuals are prosecuted. Due to the over-individualization of our judicial system, institutions are being let off the hook. “
And while there is no doubt that political pressure must continue to be exerted to transform the police force and criminal justice system in America as a whole, we must also be careful that the American institution is not fundamentally responsible for the incessant flow of police murders African Americans and people of skin color in general are off the hook.
I am, of course, speaking of the cultural institution of white supremacy, which is the root and foundation of policing that naturally emerged from the system of slavery.
Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd and all of the other state sponsored police killings too numerous to list here (and more by the day – see Brooklyn Center, Columbus, and Elizabeth City) were made possible, and often, by white supremacy legitimized.
And while we cannot be so distracted by the need to reform the police and criminal justice system that we let the institution of white supremacy off the hook, neither can we whites let us off the hook by simply assigning the blame in a Generalization of the path to the white supremacist system.
We cannot fall into the pattern of talking about apples and distinguishing between “good” anti-racist American apples and “bad” racist apples. As we know, this is not a systemic approach. This is not how systems work.
It may be tempting to watch Chauvin’s indifferent and defiant expression as he kneels on George Floyd’s neck and parting and saying, “It’s not me.”
This is not how systems work. You cannot live in the system, enjoy the system’s privileges and then refuse your membership in that system, regardless of your ideological preferences and even your activist IDs.
The challenge for white Americans is to see ourselves in Derek Chauvin.
And maybe to see us as non-white America. Because I am white, I don’t want to risk pinning down how a general non-white America sees white Americans. However, it seems fair to say in a nation marked by racial terror for people of color that people of color in white rooms do not perceive “good apples” and “bad apples” in the white population in general.
My observation and study suggest that in white America we are perceived as a dangerous apple tree and the nation as not a Garden of Eden.
However, the question is really how we see.
In her 2019 Netflix series, When They See Us, Ava DuVernay seeks, I believe, to change the way we, as white Americans, SEE overall: how we African Americans see ourselves and our position in the world Reference to African Americans and the way we see and understand the social dynamics that are driven by the way the dominant white culture, for lack of a better term, trains us to see.
It documents the infamous story of the five African American teenagers who were found responsible for the rape and beating of a woman in Central Park in 1989. While DuVernay’s methodological account is an understatement in his dramatization of the police manipulation and abuse of teenagers through forced, dishonest, and intimidating interrogation, it is poignant and painful to watch the extent to which these young black lives don’t matter to the eyes of the U.S. criminal justice system – including those who work within the system – and US society as a whole.
These boys are not considered human by “them”, whites in general, and the racist criminal justice system in particular. DuVernay’s title highlights the antagonistic viewpoints in our racially polarized and racist society and underscores the reality of “us” versus “them” of a nation stubbornly dedicated to the exercise of racial oppression and defends the ideal harmony that our hope for e-pluribis creates embodied is essential.
While DuVernay undoubtedly emphasizes how a white racist vision mistakenly and violently portrays these boys as wild beasts, it also turns the tables and begs white Americans to see how they, and most importantly, their systemic and individual behavior, from a racial perspective are viewed differently in America. Or, to make it even clearer, she asks us to see these behaviors and attitudes objectively. It’s not really just a matter of perspective.
She portrays the violent and terrorist savagery of white America, white Americans against colored people, and asks us white Americans to see ourselves, to see how we are seen.
While the prosecution advanced their final arguments in the murder trial of Chauvin, we, the people, must not close this case and be content with holding only Derek Chauvin or the police to account.
We must hold white supremacy accountable and, as white Americans, take a hard look in the mirror.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a Chicago state university. A longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.