As the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is accused of killing George Floyd by mercilessly pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck, begins this week, I am convinced that Black people need healing as much as we need justice.
There is a persistent heartache that comes with the knowledge that some of those who are sworn to protect Americans believe that doing so involves killing citizens who look like me.
That pain is coupled with anger each time I see a still from the video of George Floyd’s death—a still in which Chauvin stares defiantly into a camera as Floyd dies beneath his knee.
Trauma on trial
It doesn’t matter to me that prosecutors have determined that Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes 29 seconds rather than 8 minutes 46 seconds.
What matters to me is that Donald Wynn Williams II, the third witness in Chauvin’s trial, took the stand and said what all of us were thinking when we saw the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for what seemed like an eternity.
“I believe I witnessed a murder,” said Williams, a mixed martial artist who wiped away tears as he listened to a recording of his own call to 911 on the day Floyd died.
We need healing, because just as Williams felt the need to “call the police on the police” after witnessing Chauvin perform what he called a “blood choke” on George Floyd, we should all want to say something, to do something, to feel something beyond this anguish.
But who do you call when the people on the other end of the line are from the same organization as the person who is trying to kill someone in your community? Who do you call when everything in front of you screams that you are viewed as a second-class citizen?
Floyd deserved better
That is the conundrum that Black people face in America, and that is why more than anything, we need healing.
After so much injustice at the hands of those who are sworn to protect us, after all the pain our community has endured, after all the videos that tell us in no uncertain terms that we are viewed by too many police officers as a menace to be extinguished, we are tired, we are hurting, and we need healing.
So, as the trial for Derek Chauvin continues, I call on Americans of every background to do one simple thing. Tell yourself that George Floyd, the man who died after Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine and a half minutes, was more than just a hashtag.
He was somebody’s son and somebody’s father. He was somebody’s brother and somebody’s friend. He was, to borrow a phrase from Rev. Jesse Jackson, somebody.
As somebody, he deserved better than what he got from Derek Chauvin. As somebody, he should have been treated like a human being. As somebody, he deserved to be given one of the first things America’s founders listed in the Declaration of Independence — life.
There is no liberty without life. No pursuit of happiness without life. No free speech, no right to assemble, no freedom of the press or religion without life. We all have the right to life, as long as we’re somebody.
Floyd was somebody
And George Floyd, regardless of his past mistakes or drug use, was somebody. Somebody from Houston who had dreams of becoming a basketball player. Somebody who, for a time, used his athletic ability and six-foot-seven frame to pursue that dream.
And even though life got in the way of that, George Floyd was still somebody.
Somebody who moved to Minneapolis in search of a better life. Somebody who had children. Somebody who did not deserve to die with Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
That’s why, as Chauvin’s trial continues, I’m looking for more than the justice that will come as a result of the second- and third-degree murder charges or the second-degree manslaughter charge.
Though Chauvin has pleaded not guilty on all counts, we all know what we saw. George Floyd was somebody, and we can’t let his death be in vain.
Solomon Jones is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.