Just before the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial was handed down in a Minneapolis courtroom, a police officer in Columbus, Ohio shot and killed a Black 16-year-old named Ma’Khia Bryant. She had called police, according to her aunt, after being threatened by “older kids.” Body camera footage released shortly after the killing Tuesday appeared to show Bryant wielding a knife during an altercation with two other girls just before she was shot. Many details about the incident were unclear in the immediate aftermath, but the juxtaposition of Bryant’s killing and Chauvin’s conviction seemed to underscore a common refrain on Tuesday: the Minneapolis verdict may have been a rare instance of accountability, but the system in which that murder was committed hasn’t gone anywhere.
“We don’t know very much as it stands, and as we watched the verdict from Minneapolis many talked about the sigh of relief,” Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin said Tuesday. “But there is a truth that for so many in our community there is no relief. This is not alright, it’s not okay, and it can’t continue on.”
Floyd’s murder last May prompted a national reckoning over systemic racism and policing. The conviction of his killer, on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter, provides a measure of closure in this particular instance—and, as a landmark case that brought the first guilty verdict against a white cop in the killing of a Black civilian in the state’s history, it felt like a first step in a march toward broader change. That last part is crucial: the Chauvin conviction can’t be the end of the movement that intensified last summer. “It’s not enough,” President Joe Biden said of the verdict in an address to the nation Tuesday. “In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that a tragedy like this will ever happen to occur again.”
What exactly that “change and reform” will look like, though, remains an open question. Biden on Tuesday touted his Justice Department’s priority of “restoring trust between law enforcement and the community they are sworn to serve and protect,” and on Wednesday Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the DOJ has launched an inquiry into Minneapolis’ policing practices to determine if its department “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.” Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. “We are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy,” Harris said. “And our job now is to honor it and to honor him.”
But that bill, which passed the House last summer, faces a rocky path ahead in the upper chamber where Republicans—who oppose its elimination of qualified immunity for cops, among other things—are unlikely to give Democrats the ten votes they need to to pass it. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, has introduced a counter-proposal, but his bill is seen by Democrats as hollow and ineffectual. It is unclear what concessions it would take for Democrats to pass something substantial, but Representative Karen Bass and Senator Cory Booker have reportedly been in discussion with Scott about the matter. And while a person familiar with the discussions told Politico there is a “healthy dose of skepticism” that major legislation can make it to Biden’s desk by late May, as Bass has hoped for, parties involved are “cautiously optimistic” about the negotiations.
While broader reforms face an uncertain future on Capitol Hill, it’s possible that smaller, but still consequential individual changes could get through. As CNN’s Van Jones suggested Tuesday, that could include bans on choke-holds and the establishment of a registry for convicted cops. But such improvements would still not address the systemic issues at play. Even the reforms backed by many Democrats stop short of defunding or doing away with the current policing system, as many activists demand.
Still, what’s happened since the murder of George Floyd has shown that progress is possible: states have ushered in police reform legislation, lawmakers are directing fresh scrutiny toward the criminal justice system, and Chauvin faces decades behind bars, thanks in part to fellow officers who testied against him. But the list of names of Black and brown people killed by police—Daunte Wright just a few miles away; Adam Toledo a couple states south—has continued to grow, a reminder of all that has yet to change. The Chauvin conviction “is addressing a symptom,” Chicago pastor Otis Moss III told the New York Times, “but we have not yet dealt with the disease.”
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