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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Reflections of a Black pastor and protestor after the verdict

by the Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D. —

First and foremost, my heart goes out to the family of George Floyd. Despite the verdict, they still have been forced to live with the loss of a loved one – a life that was snuffed out too soon.

I’m also sending love and light to all of the Black folks processing our perpetual pain and trauma. It’s still too much.

I’ve lived through the trial of the officers who beat Rodney King, they were acquitted. I still remember the O. J. Simpson trial. I can still recall the George Zimmerman trial. Not guilty. The “no true bill” for Darren Wilson. The lack of an indictment for Connor Schilling. It still stings. And the officers who killed Breonna Taylor are still free. Honestly, it has numbed me in an indescribable way.

I can’t compartmentalize this trial and separate it from a broader pattern of the sinful system and structures of injustice and inequity.

Attorney General Keith Ellison said he would not call this justice; he’d call it accountability.  He said that is a step towards justice.  I agree.

There is a modest but collective sigh of relief because we know how many times these verdicts do not result in justice for Black families, victims of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence.

The fact is, if there was a similar trial tomorrow, with similar circumstances most Black folks would still be on pins-and-needles. And our skepticism is still valid because there is a broader history that this verdict is flying in the face of.

This office being found guilty on all charges is the exception, not the rule.

I also think this trial and verdict depicts for us how much further we have to go in order for there to even be a semblance of justice for Black folks in this legal and criminal injustice system.

I think of Darrius Stewart being killed by a police officer. We had 3 minutes of video, but it wasn’t enough, I guess.

We can catalogue the scores of citizens over the decades who fit the same description or suffered similar circumstances as George Floyd but their families still have not received justice. There are several similar cases all around the country going on right now. We must care about and demand justice in those cases also.

What I would hope we would do now is lean further into the necessary structural and systemic reforms that are needed to make criminal justice reform more than a tacit talking point.

The mere fact that the eyes of the world have been fixed on this trial and that it took protests around the globe, cracks in the blue wall of silence and countless efforts to hold folks accountable, tells us the attention given to this trial and the fascination with this verdict is evidence of a horrific problem much more than evidence of a holistic solution.

I don’t want to live in a world where this type of murder must be caught on tape – over 9 minutes of footage – coupled with all of the other over-the-top obviousness in order for there to be a semblance of justice. And we still have to wait until sentencing.  (And the way this judge showed his colors by opining on Maxine Water’s commentary says a lot.)

Deep sigh.

Let’s also the consider the ways law enforcement has engaged protestors in Minnesota responding to police violence versus the way law enforcement engaged rioters in DC on Jan 6th who invaded Capitol Hill on the premise of a lie about a stolen election. There is still a double standard.

I also continue to reflect on how many of the voter suppression bills being pushed through state legislatures across the land, coupled with law enforcement residency requirements being rolled back locally are attempts to make verdicts like this, as rare as they have been, even less likely.

It’s still too much.  But we still fight on.

The prosecutor said that George Floyd didn’t die because he had a large heart… he died because the heart of the officer that killed him wasn’t big enough… and I’ve yet to be convinced that the collective heart of the country, especially in legislative spaces and the halls of political power, is big enough to stop the plague of Black death that continues to persist.

But, maybe, this is a sign of a heart that is beginning to expand. The verdict — and the days and developments that follow — will ultimately tell the tale.

And before I can even finish writing this… I receive a call from a pastor in Columbus, Ohio.

Another police-involved shooting.

Another hashtag.

#MakhiaBryant.

Damn.

I. Can’t. Breathe.

(The Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and co-founder of Up The Vote 901.)

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