There are big questions and debates opening up about the future of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement after the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
The movement on the streets led to Chauvin becoming the first white police officer to be convicted of the murder of a black man in the state of Minnesota.
But as the verdict was announced, another life was ended by racist police brutality. Sixteen year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot by police officer Nicholas Reardon in Columbus, Ohio, sparking angry protests in the city.
It was a grim reminder that the fight to end police brutality and racism is not over.
Jeoff, a vlogger and activist from Connecticut, told Socialist Worker he was “happy” but “surprised” to hear of Chauvin’s conviction.
“To me the verdict should’ve been obvious, but I think the surprise came because this is just so rare. It seemed like such an obvious example of guilt by the police.
“It was such an obvious example of murder. But we know the criminal justice system protects its own—that’s why I was surprised.”
It is no wonder many activists felt both relieved and surprised to hear the verdict when the system routinely protects killer cops
Phillip Stinson is a criminologist at Bowling Green state university in Ohio who has compiled one of the most extensive databases on police violence.
Stinson found that 140 police officers have been arrested on charges of murder since 2005. But only seven of these resulted in murder convictions.
Of the seven, several had their convictions reduced to lesser offences.
The verdict is a taste of what justice is available through our court system, through massive struggle
Many have looked on with rightful disbelief at the fact that there could be any denial that Chauvin was guilty of murder when it was caught on camera.
But even when a phone or a police officer’s body camera captures the violence cops still go unpunished.
In some states it’s not against the rules for police officers to tamper with body cam or dashboard camera recordings. In others police officers simply refuse to hand over incriminating footage. And there are other ways that the cops can get away with violence.
Annon is from Portland, Oregon where Black Lives Matter protests have continued since the death of George Floyd.
He told Socialist Worker that the very nature of how the police are set up in the US means they often face little accountability.
“Police departments that aren’t under federal control don’t need to follow their regulations. For example in Portland the police department wasn’t even collecting data on shootings,” he said.
And he added that so-called “police unions” are also a problem.
“The state negotiates with the union about wages and workplace practices. The unions back policeman in any dispute and will get lawyers and do work to keep them on.
“This turns into a legal battle that usually the city loses here in Portland.”
For Chauvin to be convicted of murder despite the protections the state usually gives killer cops is a testament to the strength of the movement.
But as revolutionary socialist group Marx21 wrote, “The verdict is a taste of what justice is available through our court system, through massive struggle.
“But it does not bring George Floyd back, and while it may make some racist cops think twice, it does not stop racism or police repression on the streets.”
In many ways the Derek Chauvin murder verdict shows that the ruling class is desperate to keep the system intact.
The state has already seen what happens when killer cops go free.
The police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 led to massive protests across the US and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests escalated when Brown’s killer Darren Wilson did not face a trial.
Perhaps this was part of the reason why president Joe Biden offered such warm words after the verdict in Chauvin’s trial was announced.
In a speech last Wednesday Biden said, “No one should be above the law, and today’s verdict sends that message.
“But it’s not enough. It can’t stop here.
“In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and must reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this ever can happen again.”
There is now a real danger that Biden, police chiefs and their allies will use Chauvin’s conviction as an opportunity to divert the anger of the movement into “official”—and safe—channels.
Ryan is an activist and librarian from Baltimore who describes himself as a pan-Africanist. He told Socialist Worker that, for him, the response from Biden and the establishment felt hollow.
“The response by the ruling class has been to paint the verdict as a sign of progress.
“But it also has been used to position themselves as both sympathetic to the struggle of oppressed communities and being active participants in the fight for racial equity.”
“But we know this is performative. It is a proven strategy for the ruling class to adopt progressive—and sometimes even radical—language to neutralise radical movements.”
Biden’s platitudes are in sharp conflict with his recent actions. Just over a week before Biden’s speech he scrapped a campaign promise to create a police reform commission.
His proposed George Floyd policing bill—currently being considered in the US congress—could result in more police accountability.
I’m not sure if Biden is going to make strong police reforms. And he certainly won’t contemplate abolition or defunding of the police
If it is passed into law the bill will try to stop complained-about cops moving from station to station and will require more officers to wear body cams.
It will also ban the type of chokehold that Chauvin used to kill Floyd as well as no-knock warrants that allow cops to enter homes without warning.
The bill being passed would be another victory for the BLM movement—but it simply won’t go far enough.
Some police stations won’t have to abide by these new laws because they don’t receive federal funding. The bill also won’t apply to the FBI, customs and border protection or the drug and enforcement agency.
Biden and vice president Kamala Harris have also repeatedly said that justice has been done in this case now that Chauvin will be punished.
It’s an attempt to present Chauvin as a “bad apple” that if rooted out will transform the police force. The establishment sacrificed Chauvin to save the system.
Annon pointed out that while Biden is fine to sacrifice individual cops he doesn’t want to “alienate” police departments.
“I’m not sure if Biden is going to make strong police reforms. And he certainly won’t contemplate abolition or defunding of the police after the attack on the Capitol building in January.”
The rest of the establishment is unlikely to make substantial moves to reform the police either.
In fact, finding an individual cop guilty may even slow down moves towards police reform.
US newspaper Axios reported that senior Democratic and Republican party aides have said the convictions of individual police officers for assaults on black people has actually served to reduce pressure for change in Washington.
This is because those in power rely on the police to protect their system.
Reforms now are important—and will only be won by the continuation of the movement on the streets. But ultimately protests must move beyond Biden and the Democrats and push for an end to the police and the rotten system they prop up.
Across the US mostly Republican politicians are pushing through or planning legislation that attempts to suppress protest. At least 29 states across the US have considered new anti-protest laws after the BLM protests last summer.
In Florida, Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed a new law that would mean those who drive through crowds of protesters could be granted immunity.
This same law will also make it easier to keep protesters in jail for longer. And it will deny activists bail up until their first court appearance.
Micah Kubic, Florida director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, “The goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets. It should not be a crime to exist in public space.”
In Minnesota a new bill has been proposed that will mean those convicted of any offence while protesting will be barred from accessing student loans.
In reaction to the bill, one student activist wrote on Twitter, “Keep in mind that the Minnesota legislature is currently attempting to take away the free speech rights of young people.
“The protests worked, so they are trying to ensure that we cannot keep doing so.”
The establishment is worried by the successes of the BLM movement—and is ramping up intimidation to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Activists across the US have highlighted the need to stay on the streets after Chauvin was found guilty. Tara wrote on Twitter, “George Floyd got the justice he deserved. Now what about Breonna Taylor? Sandra Bland? Tamla Horsford?
“We can’t go silent all because we got one victory. Let’s keep fighting.”
Protests have continued after the murder of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center near Minneapolis and Adam Toledo in Chicago. And protests are beginning to pull in sections of the labour movement. In St. Paul, also near Minneapolis, union members kicked out the National Guard from a prominent building devoted to the labour movement.
Jeoff says it will take a massive overhaul of the system to get the change that is needed. “The fact is the police have too much power and too much money. That’s why I think defunding the police is important.”
“The police don’t keep us safe and cities with the largest police budgets often have the most violence. We have to take this money away from the institution and use it for more important things like healthcare and schools.”
Ryan added, “The movement against police brutality needs to continue to make connections between the institution of policing and the system to attack the problem at the root.
“The task is to show people how racism and other forms of oppression are inextricably linked to capitalism.
“The only way to end state‑sanctioned violence and anti‑black terror is through abolishing the entire system.”