In the United States, the fight against racism takes a step forward by placing a white police officer on trial.
The still-bleeding open wound of racism in the U.S. has a chance to find some redress in the trial that started this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, against Derek Chauvin, the white police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, a Black citizen who died after the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The crime that shocked the country on May 25, unleashing a surge of protests against the discrimination and abuse that Black citizens still suffer, and which spread to other countries despite pandemic-related restrictions, comes to trial in a very different political climate, but its belligerence is legitimized by the images of agony and cruelty that everyone saw. The first day of the trial started with a video, in which Floyd can be seen crying out 27 times that he cannot breathe; it will be key in determining whether Chauvin is guilty or not.
Donald Trump, who was president at the time of the crime, attempted to suppress the protests, and transformed the indignation that materialized into the Black Lives Matter movement into a simplistic conflict between law and order — something he and law enforcement suppressing the protests supposedly represented — and chaos and vandalism. That posture failed at the ballot box, and today, there is a different president living in the White House, one more committed to the cause of anti-racism and who has the responsibility of combating the underlying situation. Floyd will certainly be remembered as an icon — beyond his status as a victim — for the change that is needed in order to realize what his 6-year-old daughter proclaimed after his death: “Daddy changed the world.”
But the depth of the racial wound is an impediment to real optimism. Police brutality against the Black community occurs every day (African Americans are 2 1/2 times more likely to fall victims of it than white people), and inequality has become apparent during the pandemic, with a higher rate of both infections and mortality due to worse living standards or limited resources for private health insurance. The average household wealth of a white family is seven times higher than that of a Black family. Although the level of education has improved significantly since the 1960s, 25% of African Americans have four years of college compared to more than 35% of white people with four years of college; the average Black household income is 60% of the average for white people; and African American unemployment is at 16.8% compared to 12.4% for white people, to name a few figures. This is the context in which the United States will deal with its ability to bring justice for Floyd, to convict a white police officer if there is sufficient evidence, and, above all, to work to reverse the centuries-old inequality that has no excuse to continue.