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Justice Is Rare But Death Is Routine: George Floyd and Ma'Khia Bryant

Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts.

The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd's neck for 9.2 minutes as the 46-year old Black man pleaded for his life is now a convicted murderer; convicted on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The 45-year old Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for manslaughter. Sentencing is expected in about eight weeks. 

But you understand if some of us don't feel much like celebrating. 

The murder of George Floyd kickstarted the latest and most potent iteration of the Black Lives Matter era; sparking worldwide protests and an international reckoning with race. With his death filmed by teenager Darnella Frazier, the world saw the desperation in Floyd's final moments, and the heinousness of Chauvin's indifference to human life. But we've been here before. 

And, as everyone was reminded rather quickly, we will be here again. 

By the time the news of the Chauvin verdict hit social media, it was immediately sullied by news of another police-involved shooting. In Columbus, OH, 16-year Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed by a police officer who was responding to calls of a disturbance. Bodycam footage was released and debates have raged on social media about what happened, what's justifiable and how much more can a people take.

According to the AP, Bryant was in foster care with Franklin County Children’s Services at the time of the shooting. Debra Wilcox, Bryant's grandmother, spoke about her granddaughter. 

“The fact that I see what I saw on that video is not how I know my Ma’Khia,” Wilcox told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t know what happened there unless she was fearful for her life.”

The incident has drawn national attention; it is the second high-profile fatal shooting of a teenager by police in the last month. Body camera footage released last week showed an officer shoot and kill 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago.

“It’s a tragedy. There’s no other way to say it. It’s a 16-year-old. I’m a father,” Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods said to reports regarding Ma'Khia Bryant. “Her family is grieving. Regardless of the circumstances associated with this, a 16-year-old lost her life yesterday.”

Just days before the verdict was given in the high-profile Chauvin case, 20-year old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by officer Kimberly Ann Potter in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota -- just 10 miles away from the Chauvin trial. Wright was driving with his girlfriend when he was pulled over. After discovering a warrant, the police attempted to arrest Wright. When he tried to get back into his car, Officier Potter, who'd been acting as a training officer while her colleagues made the arrest, draw her weapon and fired. Authorities later stated that Officer Potter intended to draw her Taser but instead drew her 9mm Glock pistol and shot Wright. He died behind the wheel after attempting to drive away from the gunfire. Potter subsequently resigned and has been charged with second degree manslaughter. 

In North Carolina, a Black man named Andrew Brown, Jr. was shot by police who were supposed to be serving a search warrant. According to witnesses, Brown was shot while attempting to drive away.  “When they opened the door he was already dead," Brown's neighbor Demetria Williams told The Associated Press. “He was slumped over.” She said officers tried to perform chest compressions on Brown. 

As has been pointed out by countless commentators, the violence that police wield against Black citizens isn't a new phenomenon; the Black Panthers were formed because of it; the righteous anger of Hip-Hop was born of it; the L.A. riots were the result of it. What has changed is how hyperconnected we've all become to it. In an age of constant bombardment via social media, smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle, when does it become numbing and desensitizing? 

The scarcity of guilty verdicts in cases involving cops killing Black folks was immediately thrust against the commonality of those killings. It's an uncomfortably stark connection; the death is routine, the justice is rare.

On June 12, 1963, civil rights organizer Medgar Evers was shot in the back in his driveway. Evers had been prominent in Mississippi as the field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Evers was murdered by known white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, who was arrested and charged, but whose trial ended in a hung jury in 1964 and a deadlock in a second trial. De La Beckwith had bragged to friends about the killing and he received letters of support and donations for his defense fund while in prison. 

In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of Evers murder. 30 years after he fired the shot that killed a man coming home to his family; and after decades of bragging about it, the judicial system finally delivered what some would call justice. Beckwith's rifle was found at the scene, and his fingerprints were on its scope. Both of his trials featured juries made up entirely of white men. 

Security guard George Zimmerman made national headlines in 2012 when he stalked and killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Zimmerman said he'd followed Floyd because the teen looked suspicious; and he attacked Martin even after calling 911 and being told not to engage with the youngster. In 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty after he'd said he shot Martin in self-defense. After sixteen hours of deliberations over the course of two days, the six-person jury rendered a not guilty verdict on all counts.

When the devil constantly gets away with it, you can be forgiven for wanting to celebrate the times when the debt comes due. But, just as Beckwith's 1994 conviction wasn't really justice, the guilty verdict against Chauvin isn't more than a temporary victory. It won't matter unless it sets a precedent, it won't matter unless it causes a ripple effect that changes the way the judicial system values Black lives. It won't matter unless we see it affect the way Black people and Black communities are policed. 

You'll forgive me if I don't seem very celebratory or if I don't have very many concrete answers. But Black folks have long demanded that the system take out its trash. American policing is anchored in racism. Until that fundamental truth is rectified, we will always be here. Audre Lorde put it succinctly with The Masters Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House. As a people we can't afford to get to high, and we refuse to stay low. We're just watching. 

George Floyd. Ma'Khia Bryant. Daunte Wright. Adam Toledo. Jacob Blake. Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Sandra Bland. And another one. And another one. The hashtags. The outrage. The commentary. The thinkpieces. The ritual.

When does the cycle end? How can progress be measured? Black folks have a right to exhale whenever we find space to do so. But know that we are sick of seeing this play out over and over again. We are all too used to Pyrrhic victories that are hailed as pivotal moments in our struggle. We know this movie all too well. 

And we are tired. 

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