We Won a Battle…..

Racist Killer Cop Escorted to Jail

But We Could Still Lose the War!

After watching the masterful case put on by the prosecution, with airtight arguments by a variety of expert witnesses establishing the guilt of Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd last May 25 – which ruined my birthday – I wondered what would happen if this killer white cop were acquitted, or even if there was a hung jury.  Considering the rage I felt at the thought of either outcome, I shuddered for the fate of my country when I reflected upon what enraged youths might do.  As I felt like throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police station, and I am not anti-police.  I think talk about abolishing the police, or disarming them, is reckless folly.

Given the rampages of armed criminals, especially in low income black and Latin communities, either alternative would be suicidal.  We need armed police, we just need to weed out the ignorant racists, and see to it that they protect and serve law abiding citizens and shoot armed criminals who pose a danger to citizens or themselves.  And the struggle to achieve these ends continues.

Hence, I think the celebrations after the guilty verdict against the former cop turned convict, may have claimed a greater victory than was won.  Some observers, such as Dr. Jason Johnson, a professor of political science and journalism at Morgan State University, in the troubled city of Baltimore, thought the celebrations excessive, because the outcome of this case might prove a pyric victory that could be an asset to the reactionary forces opposing wider police reform.

His fear is that the effusive praise of a verdict, won after the extraordinary efforts of the prosecution, obscures the fact this this should have been an open and shut case, a prima facie case of guilt.  After all, the whole world watched the murder in living color on television, thanks to the diligence and courage of the new breed of citizen journalists like 17-year-old Danella Frazier, armed with cell phone cameras, who are recording police brutality in on the scene.  However, while Johnson’s fear of the real possibility that this case will be used to oppose wider efforts at police reform has merit, Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor and professor of Law at the University of Alabama, believes that this guilty verdict will act as “a deterrent” to future police abuse of power.

Yet the real test of the importance of this case will be decided by the extent to which it is able to influence the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is being debated in the US Senate as I write.  This bill contains a package of reforms that will put the full force of the federal government behind the victims of police abuse of authority, putting an end to it.  This is of critical importance because it will create a uniform standard for police conduct nationwide, removing the disciplining of abusive officers from the incestuous snake pit of local politics.

The history of racial oppression in the former Confederate states in the South demonstrates the effectiveness of federal power in pursuing racial justice.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, the defeated southern slave masters and their poor cracker dupes – who had fought and died to preserve a system of slave labor that denied them any chance of achieving better working conditions and wages for themselves because they were competing with unpaid labor that had no rights – attempted to re-enslave the black population with a series of hastily passed laws that became known as the “Black Codes.”

Andrew Johnson, the anti-Confederate white southerner that became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, opposed slavery precisely for the role it played in impoverishing the class of white southerners from which he hailed, but was a devout white supremacist, and opposed efforts by Congress to empower the freedmen – as the newly emancipated former slaves were called.  This provoked congress, led by anti-slavery members such as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania in the House, and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the Senate, to take over the rebuilding of the nation from the ruins of Civil War and introduce a plan for “Radical Reconstruction.”

During this period 1866- 76 the Congress passed seven Civil Rights bills and added three amendments to the constitution. The 13, 14 and 15 Amendments, known as the “Reconstruction Amendments, were designed to end chattel slavery permanently, confer citizenship and equal rights on the Freedman, and extend the voting franchise to them, giving them a vote in deciding who shall govern them.  The results of these federal laws dramatically elevated the status of the Freedman.

However, most of these gains were nullified with the retreat of federal protections beginning with the Compromise in the Presidential election of 1877, and a series of defeats in the Supreme Court culminating in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which stood the crucial Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment on its head, and created the legal basis for racial segregation everywhere in the US, with it’s infamous “Separate but Equal” doctrine.

This doctrine quickly resulted in the creation of a legal racial caste that was separate but manifestly unequal, until the Brown v The Board of Ed decision of 1954 – argued by the brilliant Afro-American litigator Thurgood Marshall and his team of lawyers from the NAACP – resulted in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court that “Separate is inherently unequal.”  Yet it took the Omnibus Civil rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting rights Act of 1965, to restore Afro-American Americans to the status we had enjoyed in 1875!

As I write, the spate of voter suppression laws being passed by Republican controlled legislatures around the country – a reaction to their defeat by Democrats in the last election with the Afro-American vote making the difference – in conjunction with “anti-riot” laws cropping up in some states, threatens a similar reversal of hard-won gains. This is why federal protections from official police violence is critical to the well being and progress of Afro-Americans. The prevention of such protections have been consistently  opposed by racists, which is the paramount reason for our failure to get an anti-law on the books for a century; the most recent attempt championed by Afro-American senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris – who has since become the first female Vice President –  was defeated in the Senate just a couple of years ago.

This is why the struggle must now focus on getting the Senate to pass the Bill sent up from the House, which was vociferously opposed by House Republicans, as is exemplified by the rancorous debate between that pugnacious pasty-faced charlatan Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, and beautiful, brilliant Val Demings – of Florida, a former police chief with 27 years in policing. Beauty and the beast! Hence the true measure of the Victory in the Chauvin conviction will ultimately be determined by the outcome of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.  I will have more to say about the trial itself, and what it tells us about the state of American jurisprudence in a forthcoming essay.



They Thanked Everybody from God to the Jurors


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 21, 2001












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