Black People Don't Need a Jury to Tell Us Derek Chauvin Is a Murderer | Opinion

I believe Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

I believe that because I watched Chauvin put his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd struggled and life slowly left Floyd's body.

I don't believe Chauvin will be convicted of any of the charges he faces. Not of second-degree unintentional murder. Not of third-degree murder. Not of second-degree manslaughter.

"Not guilty" and "not guilty" and "not guilty" is what I fully expect to hear the jury foreperson repeat a few weeks from now at the end of the trial.

I will still believe Chauvin is guilty, just as I believe O.J. Simpson murdered two people, despite what a court of law said about those charges, just as I believe the four officers charged in the Rodney King beating were guilty, despite what a jury in Los Angeles said.

George Zimmerman did not kill Trayvon Martin because of self-defense. He killed Martin after suspecting him, then stalking him.

Tamir Rice isn't dead because a police officer used reasonable force and was justified in shooting that Black boy. I know that despite what law enforcement experts want me to believe.

I know what prosecutors and investigators and juries said in those cases. None of that negates those truths. My morality, my sense of right and wrong, will never be determined by 12 men and women in a jury box and a judge in a black robe.

Floyd Trial
Bridgett Floyd, the sister of George Floyd, walks past a wall covered in graffiti after speaking outside the Hennepin County Government Center on March 8, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

That's why I don't need the permission of a jury to call what Chauvin did murder.
I expect Chauvin's name will soon be added to the list of men who killed unnecessarily and yet walked away with their freedom even after taking someone else's life. Because I have that little faith in the criminal justice system.

That doesn't mean I don't believe in due process. I'm a Black man from South Carolina whose parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents were born into and grew up in the Jim Crow South. I've heard them talk of Black people being "disappeared" during an era in which lynching or the threat of lynching, the antithesis of due process, was still very much real.

No one has to tell me the importance of a system to settle disputes and to bring resolution to crimes. I'd have to be a fool not to know. It's just that I know due process doesn't always lead to justice, especially for people who look like me.

Due process has meant the men who beat and tortured and lynched Black boys like Emmett Till were free to brag about their crimes. They beat that Black boy with a gun. They shot that Black boy. They attached a cotton-gin fan and barbed wire to his black body and threw it into the Tallahatchie River. An all-white jury gave them the kind of due process that led to a not guilty verdict. And they were paid $4,000 in 1956 (worth nearly $39,000 today) to detail their evil deeds to a magazine for all the world to see.

Due process maybe necessary, but I'm under no illusion it is an elixir for what ails us.

Due process is what men like Chauvin get, no matter how egregious their actions. He doesn't get it only from the letter of the law; he gets it because he put on a blue uniform and wore a badge and carried a baton. That makes him more than innocent until proven guilty, a concept not often afforded to people who look like me, especially the darker the skin or the kinkier the hair. It makes him innocent even when guilty.

The prosecutors in Chauvin's case were right: Our eyes did not deceive us. We saw his knee. We saw his demeanor. We saw him treat Floyd the way he wouldn't a stray-rabid dog. It wasn't Floyd's underlying medical conditions forcing Chauvin to do that. Floyd's soul began escaping his body while it was under Chauvin's knee.

No matter. Chauvin was a cop, a good citizen doing a dangerous job. That's what I expect the jury to see. And I expect them to believe Floyd was just another black dude who "was no angel" when Chauvin's defense attorneys tell them to believe just that.

It won't matter that an off-duty firefighter was desperate to help but wasn't allowed to, or that a professional fighter was scared and angry. It won't much matter that a 9-year-old girl was "kind of sad" watching the scene unfold. It matters not that we've created a system in which if a man puts on the right kind of uniform, he can murder another man on the sidewalk in broad daylight and it would be a crime to intervene on behalf of his victim.

Chauvin was a cop, so his fear or indifference or callousness, or whatever you'd like to call it will almost always trump the sanctity of the life of a man like Floyd.

Don't be fooled: There was no chance—none—that Chauvin would not have been afforded due process rights. And let me be clear: That is as it should be. The state must be forced to prove its case before it can strip a man of his liberty and freedom, even when that man commits a murder that's captured on video.

But I don't trust the system because I know that due process, by the letter and spirit of the law, is far too often one-sided, one way. I've seen due process mean men who murdered and walked free.

I've seen due process mean the death penalty is most often invoked when the victim is white, not Black or brown. I've seen due process mean young Black men go to prison for 15 years even though there was no evidence presented against them and the only witness to finger the defendant screamed "It wasn't him!" from the stand.

I don't trust the system because it has led to decades-deep racial disparities we have yet to uproot, and has fractured families like mine.

That doesn't mean I don't believe in due process. I do. It's just that I believe in justice more. And I know the difference between the two.

Issac Bailey is professor of public policy at Davidson College, a 2014 Nieman fellow at Harvard University and author of Why Didn't We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland. Twitter: @ijbailey.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.