*In Newsweek’s cover story this week, racial justice activist and writer Shaun King, a prominent voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, outlines the steps President Joe Biden and Congress should take now to build on the momentum of the conviction of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder. America, King says, could finally tackle the policing and criminal justice crises that have torn the country apart.
I want us to have a hard conversation—about race, about injustice and about the possibility that America could seize the unprecedented moment we are in right now, the aftermath of prosecutors and a jury finally holding a violent police officer accountable for killing an unarmed Black man, to finally address the systemic problems that brought us to this point. But first I’d like to talk not about racism and murder, but about peanut butter. Yeah, peanut butter.
Imagine with me for a moment that the FDA has issued an emergency nationwide recall on peanut butter. All of it. The organic expensive stuff and the super processed store brands. Even products that have peanut butter in them, have all gotta go.
As a lifelong peanut butter aficionado, it’s my worst nightmare, but believe it or not, it’s about the best metaphor I can provide for where we are right now as a country when it comes to the intersection of civil rights, human rights, police brutality and mass incarceration.
“Joe Biden, having crafted the blueprint for the most punitive and carceral federal legislation in modern American history, should be uniquely skilled and qualified to tear it back down.”
Convicting Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for his central role in the murder of George Floyd was a good thing. What we just achieved with the conviction of Chauvin, in comparison to the size and depth and complexity of the problem we’re up against, is absolutely better than nothing, but I need you to understand that it’s closer to being nothing than it is to being the deep systemic change this nation needs right now. It’s a major breakthrough for the family of George Floyd, and for all of us who fought for this accountability, to be sure.
The conviction of Chauvin is something akin to the FDA calling for a nationwide recall of peanut butter and that one single family cleaning most, but not all, of the products containing peanut butter out of their house. That doesn’t even solve the whole problem for that one family. It damn sure doesn’t solve the peanut butter problem for their block or their neighborhood, or their city, or county, or state, or region.
Every officer involved in the murder of Floyd hasn’t even been tried and convicted yet. That accountability is still elusive for the family of Floyd, and for nearly 99 percent of families whose loved ones are killed by police. “The U.S. doesn’t simply need more conversation on race and racism; we need justice, accountability, change and restoration.”
It touched my heart, minutes after the verdict, to see President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris call the family of Floyd and congratulate them. Biden called on what I think is his greatest superpower. Face to face with a person in pain, he is the most empathetic president in the modern history of this country.
What I want to know is whether Biden is willing to tilt the empathy he has for individuals harmed by police violence and mass incarceration toward the unjust systems that he actually imagined and constructed himself.
I’ve been descriptive of our problems, but please allow me to be prescriptive, and even hopeful, for the remainder of our time together. Because I have good news: Joe Biden can make a whole lot of things better.