Ibram X. Kendi: ‘Is Justice Convicting a Police Officer, or Is Justice Convicting America?’

Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, stands for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne

“Justice is convicting America,” declared Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, in a video produced by CBS and published on Wednesday in response to the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Kendi, who describes himself as an “antiracist scholar,” framed the trial of Chauvin as part of a broader prosecution of America. He asked, “Is justice convicting a police officer, or is justice convicting America?”

Floyd was “endangered’ by “racist narratives” that harm black people, Kendi added. He called for an American transformation to usher in an “antiracist future.”

In a CBS-produced video including somber piano background music and photos of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Kendi remarked:

With today’s conviction we can now formally say that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. A Minneapolis jury convicted a police officer who knelt on the neck of a handcuffed black man in a prone position for more than nine minutes.

So now what? Chauvin is headed to jail, but is America headed to justice? Is justice convicting a police officer, or is justice convicting America?

When tens of millions of Americans after Floyd’s murder last year took to the streets of nearly every American town, we were convicting America. Since 2013 more than 1,000 people have died at the hands of police, many of them mentally ill, many of them during traffic stops like Daunte Wright.

Since the Chauvin trial began on March 29th, more than three people per day have been killed by law enforcement, many have been black and Latino and young, like Adam Toledo. 

It is easy to just blame individual officers like Derek Chauvin, but the problem is structural. The problem is historic. The problem is every single American who sees George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as dangerous rather than the policies that led to health disparities, under-resourced schools, disproportionate black poverty and unemployment, and few resources for all of us suffering from drug abuse, from mental illnesses, from despair. 

Justice is not closing a case. Justice is not closing the cell door on Chauvin. Justice is closing the door on racist narratives and policies that endangered Floyd, that still endangers black people, that endangers America.

Justice is opening the door to an anti-racist future where American fear is endangered, where I no longer live in fear, where Americans no longer live in fear of me. Justice has convicted America. Now, we must put in the time transforming this nation.

In 2020, Kendi joined Oprah Winfrey in advising white guests about “white privilege” and “white advantage.”

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