Nine minutes and 29 seconds — that’s how long Derek Chauvin, a White police officer, kept African-American George Floyd pinned under his knee on a pavement in Minneapolis on May 25 last year. Floyd was neither a terrorist nor a killer on the loose. All that he was accused of was using a counterfeit $20 note at a store. Yet, he was choked to death by the cop, with his last words being a desperate plea: ‘I can’t breathe.’ This abominable act of police brutality and racism shamed America and gave a new lease of life to the Black Lives Matter movement. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts of Floyd’s murder. Soon after the verdict, President Joe Biden candidly admitted that the killing had ‘ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism’ in the US.
With Chauvin set to be imprisoned for a long term, justice appears to have been done in the Floyd case, and that too within one year of the incident. But is it the beginning of a new dawn in America, which has a long history of racial inequality and injustice? The House of Representatives has passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is aimed at bringing about police reforms in the US, but it is yet to be adopted by the Senate. The biggest challenge is to catalyse a transformation in the hearts and minds of the law enforcers as well as the ordinary people. The recent massacre of Asian-Americans in Indianapolis is a grim reminder of the enormity of the task of changing mindsets.
The US case has lessons for India, which is no stranger to police excesses and sectarian intolerance. All the custodial deaths, fake encounters and mob lynchings demonstrate blatant disregard for the rule of law. The frequent cases of instant justice point to the dwindling trust in the judicial system. The police-politician-criminal nexus is taking its toll on the dispensation of justice. What’s needed is earnest introspection, followed by course correction, so as to create an environment in which every Floyd can breathe freely and fearlessly.