It is all in his name. And it has always been in the names. We say their names. King, Jordan, Martin, Floyd, Wright. We say her names—Natasha, Reykia, Sandra. We say these names because the lives extinguished under the cloak and cover of the state, the lives taken under the ruse of American empire; those lives matter more to us, because as citizens of this nation and as citizens of Philadelphia, or whatever town, country or municipality to which you subscribe, we all know that state-sanctioned murder matters more because it indicts a system that the people expect to serve and protect them.
That system has long since collapsed under the weight of too many state-sanctioned murders to recount here. But we know their names.
These trials, this Chauvin trial, calls into question the very premise of citizenship itself. If the state can take our lives with impunity, then citizenship itself simply does not matter. This is what the Movement for Black Lives means in the 21st century. If we cannot summon justice for the state-related, state-sanctioned murder of the people who live and love amongst us, then the concept of the state itself is unstable; the concept of the state is untenable. It does not exist for those of us who are regularly murdered with impunity by the construct established to protect our living rights—our right to live.
MORE ON THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD
It’s all in his name. The names have always mattered because we see people we know in every iteration of state-sanctioned murder, in every instance of police brutality that we see on the screens that occupy our lives. We lament the loss, but we rely on an arbitrary system of justice to resolve the complexities of an ideologically informed race-based system of policing. This trial, these circumstances are not new. The result, the guilty verdict feels new; it feels refreshing. The very same cities in which we live and fear for our lives (from every traffic stop) are all now breathing a collective sigh of relief from our rage given the verdict determined in the Chauvin trial.
But I am from the Rodney King generation of the Movement for Black Lives. I am of the people who know that video evidence of the crime doesn’t always matter. From the televised three minutes of the brutal beating of King to the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of the brutal murder of George Floyd, the King generation knows that video evidence isn’t always evidentiary. Video evidence does not always matter in our arbitrary system of justice.
There can never be justice for the family of George Floyd. The trial is a non sequitur. It isn’t relative to the issue at hand. Cops kill Black people, usually with impunity, usually with qualified immunity. No trial and no verdict signal a change in that simple fact.
It’s all in his name. I did not watch any coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin. I did not need to watch it. The verdict was the only piece of information that matters to me. And even the verdict —guilty on all counts—was not enough to satiate the soul-crushing effects of American racism.
I could not watch the coverage of the trial. I couldn’t do it. I could not subject myself to the arbitrary and virtual torture of a process that regularly and discriminately criminalizes me. I couldn’t respond to all of my white friends who wanted to know how I was in the wake of this trial. Is this trial what makes you think of me? Is the slow lynching of a Black man on cellphone video the signal that you need to activate your alliance with the Movement for Black Lives?
Maybe it is. But for me, there can never be justice for the family of George Floyd. The trial is a non sequitur. It isn’t relative to the issue at hand. Cops kill Black people, usually with impunity, usually with qualified immunity. No trial and no verdict signal a change in that simple fact.
The trial of Derek Chauvin didn’t matter to me because no matter the verdict, I could not (and cannot) understand how this is a marker of progress. Maybe it is. Maybe it is a step in the direction of justice; maybe it will alert other officers of the law that if you take the life of an unarmed human being, you too might be held accountable by a justice system that is designed to protect you at all costs—even if you are killing me in the process of doing your job.
But maybe it isn’t. Maybe the arc of the universe doesn’t bend towards justice for Black folks. I am happy and willing to be proven wrong, but please, please show me the data. Show me how this system can work going forward for all of us to be served and protected by those we pay (and charge) with and for this basic task of the American citizenry.
Maybe the arc of the universe doesn’t bend towards justice for Black folks. I am happy and willing to be proven wrong, but please, please show me the data.
It’s all in his name. Chauvin—the name, like so many other names—Bland, King, Taylor, Martin—packs meaning in its etymology. Some of the names remain etched on the scrolls in our minds, the running lists of those lives claimed through state-sanctioned violence. But Chauvin’s name has meaning, too. I didn’t watch the trial. I didn’t need to. I couldn’t watch the stadium sports coverage of the defense vs. the prosecution. I couldn’t stomach the win-loss sensibility of it all.
The coverage kills the spirit. And for me, it diminishes the humanity that must remain our primary purpose in challenging the forces designed to diminish us. I didn’t watch the trial because it was already—always already—in his name. Derek Chauvin is guilty. George Floyd is gone.
The Chauvin name will live on in infamy. His name will be associated with a flashpoint from which we might continue the long-suffering process of exacting justice from our criminal justice system. But in the same way that the names—King, Martin, Breonna and Sandra—will summon certain histories, in that same way, Chauvin’s name summons its own.
The name—his name—has its own history. And maybe Derek’s family name doesn’t derive from this history, but its identical morphology makes it plain. Chauvin is the etymological root of the word chauvinism. It dates back to a soldier—a supplicant of the great murderous dictator known as Napoleon. Nicholas Chauvin, a French soldier who was excessive in his patriotic dedication/devotion to Napoleon, was also a devout nationalist. He believed deeply in the Napoleonic state—even after its decrepit demise. His cult-like devotion has been immortalized in the English language in the concept of chauvinism itself, which reflects a superior attitude toward people of the opposite sex—usually men demeaning the humanity of women.
The look on Derek’s face as he kneeled on the neck of a dying George Floyd was in many ways chauvinistic. His was a chauvinism born out of the Napoleonic moment. His casual demeanor reflected his jingoistic sense of his protected status as a dedicated agent of the state who could snatch the life of a human being with very little thought and an absolute absence of human compassion.
I didn’t need to watch the trial and ultimately, I didn’t want to. Only the verdict mattered. It was always already all in his name.
Guilty.Photo by Jéan Béller / Unsplash