Ava DuVernay’s tweet yesterday illuminated for me that I’ve been doing it wrong in not naming George Floyd’s murderers, referring to them only as police officers, even though by now you probably know their names: Derek Chauvin is the one who held Floyd down with his knee and ended his life; J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao are the ones who stood by and watched it happen.
Officers who kill unarmed Black people often get admin pay, another job, a life of anonymity. Their victims get eulogies.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) June 8, 2020
We have a blind spot as a society in agreeing not to speak these officerâ€™s names. I do not agree to that anymore.
Join @leapaction. https://t.co/jVh65zu6Tc
Ava is right – why should they be anonymous?
Four years ago this month, when Chanel Miller’s victim impact statement was published and read around the world, the man who raped her while she was unconscious behind a dumpster became known. His name, as you know, is Brock Turner. I blasted his name up and down this site. Because he raped her. Because his supporters repeatedly tried to downplay the fact that he raped her by referring to the rape as “20 minutes of action”. Because we were repeatedly reminded that he was a student athlete, like that makes a f-cking difference. Because he actually tried to appeal his conviction by arguing that he “only” had “outercourse” with the victim. Because his punishment for raping her was six months in prison, for which he only served three.
And, now, because of this:
Willie Simmons (on the left) has been in prison for 38 years for a $9 robbery. Brock turner (on the right) was sentenced to prison for 6 months for raping a woman behind a dumpster. White privilege exists. pic.twitter.com/tiLdUz9tMz— Faizan (@_faiz_on_) June 1, 2020
Brock Turner is being dragged again. If there’s one thing that didn’t work in Brock Turner’s favour, and his whiteness almost always worked in his favour, it’s that he did not have the luxury of anonymity. Chanel Miller saw to that with her writing.
Same, then, should apply to Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. Memorise their names the way you’ve memorised Brock Turner’s names.
Ava also talked this week on Ellen about why Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd is hitting her differently. She said that her work has desensitised her to the killing of Black people by police because she has to watch so much of it (and you should watch 13th and When They See Us). But the reason George Floyd’s murder made such an impact and broke through the desensitisation is because… well… she’s using a director’s eye here to describe the difference:
It’s because both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin were face forward in the same frame. She’s seeing the situation through her profession as a filmmaker. In most footage of Black murder by law enforcement and/or garden variety white citizen racists, it’s the victims who are shown and not often the police perpetrators of the crimes.
Well isn’t that f-cking ironic – that on the rare occasion that Black people are actually centered in the storyline, instead of being pushed to the margins, it’s when they’re getting murdered by racists. In the George Floyd video though, both Floyd and Derek Chauvin are presented to the viewer in tandem, so that Derek Chauvin is inseparable from the story. Derek Chauvin, in that video, is one of the main characters. A white man is centered in the story, in the frame, and cannot remain anonymous.
As for why I mistakenly thought it was the right thing to not name Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao on this site – it was because I thought that it was more respectful to know George Floyd, to know Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Philando Castile, and so many more, too many more.
But as we keep learning the last few weeks, good intention is not enough. And it’s no excuse. Informed intention is better. While this isn’t the best example to interrogate intention, intention should be unpacked right now as we all work to examine ourselves. There’s been a lot of conversation in my circles lately about how the phrases “it wasn’t my intention to be racist”, or “I didn’t mean it that way” are often accepted as a pass for microaggressions and ignorance. Bias without intention is still bias. And it’s the unconscious bias, the white supremacist conditioning in all of us shaped by institutional racism that is the root of microaggression and the repeated silencing of Black and Indigenous people, no matter our intentions.
Yours in gossip,