Individualizing the system by blaming these actions on a single bad cop like Derek Chauvin misses the point entirely. Getting one violent police officer off the streets doesn’t do anything to stop police violence because policing is violent.
CW: policing, murder, Black death
Yesterday, after about 10 hours of deliberation, the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty on all three charges brought against him in the murder of George Floyd. But the guilty verdict isn’t a win against the prison industrial complex, nor does this cop’s punishment get us any closer to liberation. As Mariame Kaba reminds us, the system will occasionally feed one of its own to the dogs in order to prove that the system works. By celebrating this as justice or considering it real accountability, we are letting the police rehabilitate their image in front of us in real time.
We must not forget that the criminal punishment system in all of its iterations is primarily used to surveil, arrest, incarcerate, and kill Black people—especially those who are poor, disabled, trans, and/or sex working. We cannot separate that truth from this conviction. The whole damn system is guilty as hell, so let’s not legitimize it. Prisons, jails, and detention centers are not filled to the brim with people who look like Derek Chauvin and trusting the system because it put him away will not lead to more police incarceration—it will lead to more incarceration of marginalized people.
Audre Lorde said that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” When we look at the carceral state, we see police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards, parole officers, etc. All of these people are integral to upholding a system designed to oppress and kill Black and brown people. The same people are not going to bring us any closer to liberation, even if they are arresting or prosecuting a killer cop. After they’re done with him, they’ll go back to business as usual—beating protesters, killing Black children, surveilling Muslims, etc.
“We should also keep in mind that even as Chauvin goes to prison, thousands of other cops will go back to the streets, where they will continue to kill people,” says Micah Herskind, an Atlanta-based organizer I spoke with. “A guilty verdict of one cop doesn’t touch the infrastructure of policing that continues to do the bidding of racial capitalism.” Individualizing the system by blaming these actions on a single bad cop like Derek Chauvin or a few bad cops misses the point entirely. Getting one violent police officer off the streets doesn’t do anything to stop police violence because policing is violent. As Alaya Carr, an organizer from the Seattle area who spoke with me, puts it: “I think a deep investment in the rare prosecution of a police officer causing harm often reifies the system that enables that harm to happen in the first place. The cogs will keep turning as long as we settle for crumbs.” The conviction of Chauvin is a crumb.
We know this to be true because the violence has been ongoing since the murder of George Floyd and subsequent uprisings. Yesterday, Columbus Police killed a 16-year-old Black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant as the Chauvin verdict was being announced. On March 29, Adam Toledo was killed by police. Last Sunday, Daunte Wright was killed by police. What’s important is not the arrest and conviction of the individual cops who killed all of these people, it is the elimination of the circumstances that make these killings possible. “I don’t think we can end police violence until we all recognize that police violence is inherent to policing,” says Alaya. By accepting this as fact, we can begin moving toward the kind of world we want to create—one without police violence.
As Micah points out, “We can get closer to justice by organizing for a world in which this kind of violence is unthinkable, because there are no police to begin with—no armed agents of the state surveilling, handcuffing, caging, and killing poor, Black, and brown people to defend capital and manage inequality.” Because as it stands, there is no justice for slain victims of police. Justice would be if they were alive. And a trial can’t force accountability, either. “Accountability comes from within and can’t be equated with a guilty verdict,” says Alaya. What we saw yesterday was punishment. And using the very system that killed George Floyd to punish his murderer will not end police violence.
Micah says, “We can prevent police violence by ending the police. That might bring us closer to justice.” And so, we must struggle toward abolition again and again, even as the system offers us crumbs, because crumbs will never be enough. Only liberation is enough.
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