Chauvin's verdict

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By AUGUST H. NIMTZ JR.*

A historic victory that points the way forward

The most instructive fact about the Derek Chauvin trial – other than the video and what the prosecution and defense presented – was the composition of the jury. If we don't know their names, we now know something relevant about the twelve members who voted to convict: four white women, two white men, three black men, one black woman, and two “mixed race” or biracial women. Virtually all of them belong to the working class.

For the first time in U.S. history, a jury composed of half of people who identify as white convicted a white police officer of the second-degree murder of a black person, the most serious charge to date. [1] If there is an exception, it's certainly not as visible as this instance. Therefore, it is a historic milestone – an achievement to be celebrated, an extremely important victory, because it points the way forward.

For those who insist that social reality is all about narratives and not facts – and that the dominant narrative in America is triumphant white racial supremacy – the Jury of the Twelve vote is an inconvenient fact. [2] Too bad that, understandably, the public didn't get a chance to see the jury's face; not quite the iconic Hollywood version of the 1950s “Twelve Angry Man” [Twelve Men and a Sentence] from a jury of the working class in America today. To ignore the difference between the two eras is to irresponsibly dismiss the opportunities that currently exist to build on victory and do something potentially far-reaching.

In 1992, an all-white jury in Simi Valley, California acquitted the four white police officers who brutally tortured and beat Rodney King. [3] They refused, unlike the six whites on Chauvin's jury, "to see it with their own eyes" - police brutality that was also caught on video. The difference speaks to the profound changes in attitude that have taken place in the US before and since with regard to race. The two white men on Chauvin's jury were in their 20s and 30s. My experience as an African American in and out of the Minnesota classroom for nearly half a century is that white men born after 1980 (Chauvin was born in 1976) are much more open to understanding the reality of black and brown people. Being a working-class white male in XNUMXst-century America comes with diminishing perks, less than were available just a few decades earlier.

In a few months, we'll know how much prison time Chauvin's conviction will actually amount to. This decision is entirely in the hands of the judicial system over which workers have less control. It is no wonder that Chauvin chose to have the judge's opinion and not the jury's opinion as decisive in the decision. Whatever the outcome, a jury of workers in various skin color types (skin colors) and genders did something historic, on their own and collectively. Campaigners engaged in the fight against police brutality must absorb its significance.

In relation to the so-called criminal justice system, or rather business as usual in the US, consider what the newspaper New York Times wrote a few days before the Chauvin jury deliberations. “Since testimony began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement across the country, with blacks and Latinos accounting for more than half of those killed. On Saturday [April 17], the average was more than three murders a day” – now including that of Daunte Wright (2001-2021). Shortly after the jury delivered its verdict on April 20, in fact, another murder took place, that of Ma'Khia Bryant (2004-2021) in Columbus, Ohio. Andrew Brown Jr. (1979-2021) in North Carolina, as of this writing, is just the most recent.

We should all be outraged by the deaths, but not surprised. The police have existed, since time immemorial, to enforce class inequality. As long as we live under a socio-economic-political system that is based on, reproduces and deepens social inequality – capitalism – the police will be necessary “to serve and protect” the interests of the wealthy rulers. These armed, heartless bodies – imagine that indelible image of Chauvin and his knee on George Floyd's neck – are indispensable to keeping them in power. [4]

Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza almost admitted this many decades ago in his book Police Unbound: “at the heart of the problem of crime and police abuse in the United States is our tacitly accepted class structure that separates the privileged from the poor, it is the systemic racism that society as a whole is not yet willing to face”. [5] Unlike their former employers, who conveniently ignore Bouza's post-retirement confessions, workers of all skin colors can viscerally relate to his vision and are "willing to face" all the implications - which suggests the vote of the twelve jurors.

Steve Schleicher, who presented closing arguments for the prosecution, emphasized that the system he represented was not on trial: “This is not an anti-police lawsuit; this is a pro-police process.”

For that reason, Minnesota's ruling class mobilized enormous resources, both pro bono and on the payroll, to condemn Chauvin and convince workers that “the system works”. A defeat would have dealt a severe political blow to his credibility. If it seemed like overkill to the prosecution, it was for that reason. The Minnesota Police and the Peace Police Association, which funded Chauvin's defense, were no match for his efforts. The very unequal dispute revealed that, when necessary, the ruling class is prepared to put in its place the so-called “police union”, to clarify who is in state power.

After the trial, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the lead prosecutor in the case, had this to say: “I wouldn't call today's verdict “justice,” however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is responsibility, which is the first step towards justice”.

But for that to actually happen, a new system – or rather – a new operating system would have to be installed, not just the upload of applications such as training programs "conscious"(“woke”) for police officers, the latest version of police community control or even the “defunding the police” (“defund the police”). All are basically updates compatible with the still-installed operating system that produced the George Floyd (1973-2020) result in the first place.

Another inconvenient fact, at least for some: the George Floyd phenomenon does not exist in Cuba. That is, there is nothing comparable there to the reality that the worrying data that the New York Times reported on police killings in the US. Even Cuba's toughest critics make no such claim. If, as some claim, the US's "original sin" is determinant, then how to explain why Cubans of African descent do not experience similar results? After all, racial slavery existed on the Caribbean island longer than it did in the United States. If ever there was an example of a society that installed a new operating system and threw the old one in the trash, it must surely be revolutionary Cuba (starting January 1, 1959). [6]

The vote of the twelve working-class jurors in the Chauvin trial in all its diversity registers the potential to do something unprecedented in US history. Their decision should encourage all of us to realize what workers can accomplish by acting together, despite centuries of efforts by the ruling class to use skin color to divide us. [7]

Forging a mass anti-police brutality movement that is genuinely inclusive and that treats every participant as an equal, regardless of skin color or any other identity, is once again a possibility, unlike before. That kind of movement is exactly what it will take to make something truly transformative, dare I say, truly revolutionary.

*August H. Nimtz Jr. is professor of political science at the University of Minnesota (USA). Author, among other books by The Ballot, the Streets – or Both: From Marx and Engels to Lenin and the October Revolution (Haymarket Books).

Translation: Mario Soares Neto.

Originally published in the magazine MR Online.

Notes


[1] Second-degree murder is intentional, non-premeditated murder, however, representing action with intent to cause bodily harm or demonstrate a lack of concern for the victim's life. It is an intermediate criminal qualification, since it is less serious than first-degree murder and more intense than manslaughter. Under US federal law, a conviction for second-degree murder carries a life sentence. However, there are limitations established by state law – as in the state of Minnesota whose maximum sentence is 40 years – and, generally, this type of murder does not allow for the death penalty. According to the Minnesota statute, second-degree murder corresponds to the unintentional conduct of someone who, acting with force, violence or the use of a firearm, causes the death of a human being. (Translation Note).

[2] See: NIMTZ JR, August H. The Trump Moment: Why It Happened, Why We "Dodged the Bullet" and "What Is To Be Done?" Translation: Mario Soares Neto and Graciano DS Soares. Available in: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/o-momento-trump/ (Translation Note).

[3] Rodney Glen King (1965 – 2012). He was an African-American construction worker who became a writer and activist after surviving an act of police brutality. On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The beating was filmed and broadcast by media around the world. The four police officers were tried, accused of police violence, however, they were acquitted. A few hours after the acquittal, strong protests began in Los Angeles in 1992. The US Army and Armed Forces brutally repressed the protests. In this process, more than 60 people were killed, 2.283 were injured and more than 12 people were arrested. Subsequently, although the police officers were acquitted in the state trial, the federal government initiated proceedings against the human rights violators and two of those involved were sent to prison. See: KING, Rodney; SPAGNOLA, Lawrence J. The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2012. See also: JACOBS, Ronald N. Race, Media, and the Crisis of Civil Society: From Watts to Rodney King. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004 (Translation Note).

[4] See: NIMTZ JR., August H. Justice for Georg Floyd: backlash was massive and multiracial. Translation: Mario Soares Neto. Jornal Brasil de Fato, 31 May. 2020. Available at: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2020/05/31/artigo-foi-muito-importante-que-a-reacao-tenha-sido-gigantesca-e-multirracial. Accessed May 3, 2021 (Translation Note).

[5] BOUZA, Anthony V. Police Unbound: Corruption, Abuse and Heroism by The Boys in Blue. New York: Prometheus Books, 2001 (Translation Note).

[6] See: NIMTZ JR., August H. Why are there no George Floyds in Cuba? Translation: Mario Soares Neto and Graciano Soares. Jornal Brasil de Fato, 20 jun. 2020. Available at: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2020/06/20/artigo-por-que-nao-ha-george-floyds-em-cuba Accessed May 3, 2021 (Translation Note).

[7] See: NIMTZ JR, August H. Marxism, anti-racism and the revolutionary project [Interview given to] Mario Soares Neto. Santa Catarina: UFSC Institutional Repository, 2021. Available at: https://repositorio.ufsc.br/handle/123456789/221550. This article was also published on the website of the newspaper Brasil247. Available in: https://www.brasil247.com/ideias/marxismo-antirracismo-e-projeto-revolucionario-entrevista-com-o-professor-august-h-nimtz-jr Hits on 28.04.2021 (Translation Note).

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