Derek and George: What Lies Beneath
When you dig deep, you’ll find that both victim and perpetrator were fighting silent battles
When I was 22, I spent a night in jail for credit card fraud. I was a mother to six-month-old twins, unwed, and an undergrad in college. My former partner and the father of my children had not paid child support in months, and I was struggling financially. So when I was issued a credit card under his name and purchased $300 worth of diapers, clothing, and other necessities for the babies, I was doing what I thought necessary for our survival.
While the arresting officers were kind to me, I was met with swift disdain by the officers at the jail. The suggestion of my crime garnered the dismissal of my humanity. No one looked me in the eye, and I remember being left in a cell for hours after I requested a tampon because my period had started. In a moment of frustration, when I raised my voice in defense, the correctional officer retreated and drew a weapon. In this time and place, I was a shell of a woman that didn’t have a face.
Tuesday, a jury delivered a guilty verdict on all three charges against former police officer Derek Chauvin. This came after they, along with many of us, watched riveting videos and heard meticulous testimony surrounding the death of George Floyd — whose murder last May ignited police brutality protests around the world. The verdict drew a smooth exhale for many after weeks of struggling to breathe, watching a murder trial like it was a spectator sport. An iconic decision, it is an answer to the countless murders of black people at the hands of law enforcement that went unpunished. Here, Chauvin and Floyd are the archetypal villain and victim representing a pivotal moment in American history that confronts the injustice between the powerful and the powerless. Finally, this black life mattered.
In an ironic reversal of roles, I imagined Chauvin holding his breath beneath his mask as the verdict was read — himself, now the criminal, held to account for his own dismissal of the law. In contrast to the boldness and strength he exuded on that ominous day with his knee on Floyd’s neck, there in the courtroom, he looked fragile, anxious, even fearful.