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The real problem with policing

April 21, 2021, 4:53 PM UTC

Since all deaths, in some form, result from a medical incident, then I suppose you could say the initial statement issued by the Minneapolis Police Department about George Floyd was fairly innocuous. The headline, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction” just screamed, nothing to see here, folks! 

Here’s the relevant snippet:

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

We now know that this is not at all what actually happened, and it took a jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers about ten hours to make it official. Chauvin’s conviction on all counts — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — means that the 45-year-old former officer is likely facing years in prison. 

How should we think about the moment we’re in?

It says something powerful about the problems with modern policing in the U.S. that it took the courage of passersby, including a 17-year-old with a steady hand, to make sure that the world knew that unfolded the evening that George Floyd was — as we can now officially say —murdered. It says something powerful about the problems with modern policing that waiting for the verdict was so wrenching and suspenseful.

And it says something powerful about the problems with modern policing in the U.S. that we have mostly forgotten that the problems are anything but modern. The issue we’re facing is as old as the country, born from slave patrols created to support a racial caste system. More on that below. From a historical perspective, lurking behind the persistent calls for justice is the enormous design problem we must address if we are to successfully reform policing in the U.S. 

Because justice lives in the bones. 

For every anti-mob law signed into effect, like the recent one in Florida that references in spirit and tone the anti-Black intent of early policing, there are others, like H.R.7120 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which aspire to greater transparency and accountability.  For voters to understand what’s in play and what’s at stake will take a sustained commitment to deep reflection and engaged civic action. Oh, and the ability to actually vote.

That’s it. That’s the job.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

On point

The prosecutors in the Chauvin case had a “winning strategy” “Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw." — This drumbeat bolstered by irrefutable video evidence was the prosecution's final appeal to the jury. The public rebukes from other police officers and officials were useful and helped the prosecutors avoid put policing itself on trial. "This is not a prosecution of the police," prosecutor Steven Schleicher said, calling it "a most noble profession.”  What Chauvin did was not policing, they said.
NBC News

Where are the Black entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry?  It’s an important conversation to have, given the unlimited upside of the brave new cannabis world — already dominated by white entrepreneurs — and the disproportionate impact that drug laws and cannabis use have meant for people of color. “When I’m looking at the cannabis industry, I see a whole bunch of white men, and I’m like, ‘Oh no, that doesn’t even work in terms of people like me being able to relate to it and understand it,’” Riqua Hailes tells Fortune. Hailes is building a cannabis business after selling her successful hair-extension salon business, and she is making it her mission to recruit and train other people of color.
Fortune

 

On Background

Born this way Last June, NPR’s Throughline program posted an hour-long interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and author of The Condemnation Of Blackness: Race, Crime, And The Making Of Modern Urban America. The book seeks to explain the 400-year history of the criminalization of Black people in the U.S., and the unique role policing has played in a troubling narrative. “Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the way slave patrols functioned is that they were explicit in their design to empower the entire white population, not just with police power but with the duty to police the comings and goings and movements of Black people,” says Muhammad. It functions similarly today, he says, as the conversation gets personal. Well worth your time.
NPR

Some descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood massacre received reparations. Did it help? The answer appears to be complicated. Rosewood, a thriving Black community in northern Florida, was set upon and burned to the ground by an all-white mob in 1923. A 1994 law passed by the state’s legislature allowed descendants to go colleges in Florida tuition-free, the first such form of official reparations in the U.S. The scheme has been a blessing and a burden for some students. “We’re not doing this just for us,” says one recipient, during at a low point in her six-year pharmacy doctorate program. “You always have to be the best and prove a point, simply because of who you are and what your family has gone through.” The Florida program is a test case for other reparations arrangements. “If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don’t even know,” she says.
Washington Post

The descendants of formerly enslaved people who live in Mexico Eighty-six year old Lucia Vazquez Valdez is part of the Mascogo tribe in northern Mexico. Her people fled slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, across a barely remarkable border. While she speaks almost entirely Spanish, she still sings hymns in English, a remnant of an earlier time. The Washington Post has put together an enormously moving portrait of Valdez and the little village that holds a key to our own troubled past: Nacimentos de los Negros, or Birth of the Blacks. She is the oldest member of her community, and the youngest among them, fully Mexican now, migrate back across the border to find agricultural work.
Washington Post 

 

This edition of raceAhead is edited by Daniel Bentley

Today's mood board

It feels almost certain that Derek Chauvin would today be a free man without the bravery of Darnella Frazier, who was 17 at the time of George Floyd's murder. Her steady hand and unflinching gaze captured the video of Floyd's last moments, which changed hearts and minds across the globe.