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Communal Justice & the Derek Chauvin Verdict

Derek Chauvin in court

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, stands after the verdict is read in his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Standing next to him are attorneys Eric Nelson, left and Amy Voss. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Last week Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. This took place at the same time that the city of Minneapolis was essentially under lockdown by the Minnesota National Guard. This was ostensibly done to prevent “rioting” in the event of a not guilty verdict but the prevention of rioting is always about preserving the “right” of business interests to exploit labor. 

In the wake of this verdict there are those in New African communities who are proclaiming it an instance of justice served. For communities that rarely see their killers and brutalizers prosecuted, it’s understandable any instance of a conviction would be hailed as great justice. You could argue that it’s a great justice for George Floyd’s family and it would be hard to disagree with that. But, as a victim of colonial brutality, George Floyd doesn’t just belong to his immediate family but to the entire movement for New African liberation. It was the entire movement, after all, that brought his murder to light. Which is why it’s crucial that we understand matters of justice and accountability not just in individual terms but in communal terms.

Communal justice is not something that can be given to oppressed and colonized communities and it certainly can’t be given by the very same legal system that is designed to preserve the material relations that are the cause of our oppression in the first place. Every oppressed nation has it’s petty bourgeoisie.  The individuals who, due to their greater education and income/wealth, have close knit relationships with the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation and serve the function of corralling movements among the people back into “acceptable” channels. These are the same individuals who often parasitically attach themselves to the families of the victims of colonial brutality and try to tell the rest of us that a guilty verdict for one murdering pig in this one rare case represents a piece of justice for all of us. 

How many murdering pig cops are actually convicted in court? According to Phlip Stinson at the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database at Bowling Green State University between 2005 and George Floyd’s murder last year only five law enforcement officers were convicted of an on-duty shooting and not had the conviction later overturned. On the same day of Chavin’s conviction, 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot dead by police; less than a day after his conviction, Andrew Brown Jr. was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Elizabeth City, N.C. The names of the victims of this violence are too many to list here but we need to understand Chauvin’s conviction in the context of counterinsurgency, not communal justice.

The colonial state’s counterinsurgency tactics don’t always take the form of overt violence but can sometimes be in the form of strategic concessions. The state has no problem occasionally sacrificing one pig like Chauvin in order to prevent further uprisings and insurgencies on the part of colonized and oppressed populations. This is not in any way to discount the extensive and admirable amount of organizing on the part of those who were involved in bringing the murder of George Floyd and other victims of colonial violence to light. It’s simply to point out that the state has its own agenda and in a colonial context that agenda is the preservation of social relations that allow business interests to continue reaping profit at the expense of the masses of people, especially hyperexploited black and brown people. This why the Minnesota National Guard was called out in the wake of the Chauvin verdict. The Guard represented the stick; that is it represented the intense violence the state was prepared to use to put down any possible uprising that might have threatened business interests and commercial property in the case of a not guilty verdict. The actual not guilty verdict itself represents the carrot, the strategic concession designed to give the illusion that the colonial legal system is ultimately just and will always correct its own wrongs.

Again, none of this is to take away from, or discount, the heroic efforts of those who organized, and took part in, the uprisings last summer. Nor is to say that Chauvin should have been found not guilty; him being convicted is definitely a good thing. Those uprisings played a large part in the guilty verdict we witnessed in this trial; particularly the burning of a Minneapolis police station without which Chauvin might never have even been arrested, let alone indicted and convicted. But the question we have to ask is: why does it take violent uprisings to get even the bare minimum of justice of having one murdering pig convicted? If this verdict is an example of the justice of the legal system, then what are all the instances where cops murder without any accountability an example of? At what point do we go beyond the dialectic of police murder and uprisings to get a bare minimum of accountability? At what point do we really focus on communal justice?

Mapinduzi calls for community control of police. Calls for community control of police are really calls for community control of policing. There is a distinction; policing is a function of every human society where the community determines for itself how it produces what it needs and what standards of behavior are acceptable. The police are a centralized “special body of armed men” as Vladimir Lenin put it whose job is to protect a system of exploitation and accumulation. So we can see that calls for community control of police or defunding the police or abolishing the police only make sense in a context of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggle. It’s only in that struggle that we can even begin to get any communal justice instead of the haphazard, occasional individual convictions we get now.

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Mapinduzi is a community organization located in Ucouhnerunt (Greenville N.C.). We are dedicated in advancing the interest of all colonized people held down by capitalist exploitation.

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