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Bending the Moral Arc

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

(originally posted on 6/25)

I’m happy Derek Chauvin is going to jail. I’m happy he was found guilty. I’m happy for this piece of justice.

I needed to start with what I’m happy for because I don’t want to forget the victories, no matter how small. I don’t want to get lost in negativity.

But still there is so much more that I’m unhappy for.

I’m not happy that while Derek Chauvin will be going to jail for 22.5 years for murdering a man by sitting on his neck for 9 minutes, more people than we can count have spent, are spending, and will spend the same number of years and even more behind bars for petty drug crimes, people who are predominantly black and male. Just like Chauvin’s victim. Just like George Floyd.

I’m not happy that crack and powder cocaine are chemically the same, but because the former is associated with black and underprivileged users, it carries a sentence 18 times more severe than the latter, which is generally considered a privileged white person’s drug. I’m not happy that this is just one of countless examples of judicial injustice I could have chosen from.

I’m not happy that George Floyd is a name lost in the flood of names made famous for being victims of police brutality, yet this is the first time our legal system tells us it matters.

I’m not happy that it took video of a man suffocating for 9 minutes on a city street crying for his mother begging not to die for anyone to be punished. For a black man’s death at the hands of police to be considered murder in the eyes of the law.

I’m happy with yesterday’s sentencing in the same way I’m happy Juneteenth is now a national holiday, in the same way I’m happy the sentencing for crack vs powder cocaine is now “only” 18-1 - as opposed to the 100-1 disparity that existed barely a decade ago: I prefer it to the alternative, but ultimately it rings hollow, a weak gesture meant to placate and silence, grounds to dismiss claims of injustice, invisibility, and unequal treatment. A weak gesture meant to indicate racial healing while offering what ultimately amounts to nothing in terms of reparations and respect for black life.

I want to celebrate yesterday as a sign of progress, but I fear reality, the truth of how far from the goal we still are, getting lost in the cheer.

I want to view Derek Chauvin going to jail for murdering George Floyd as promise that we’re on the right track, but when I look up, when I remember the big picture, I can’t help but see it as a reminder of how far we have left to go.

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