Former police officer Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. What once seemed impossible, the conviction of a white officer for the murder of a black American, has become a reality. While this marks an important historic change, it has only happened once. And it only happened in the face of overwhelming evidence and against the background of ongoing protest against police violence against citizens.
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 there have been 966 reported killings by police. Of these, 181 were black people—thus making them 18.7% of those killed. Among these is Daunte Wright, who was shot by police not far from where Chauvin was on trial.
37% of the deaths were those of white Americans. The fact that most people killed by the police are white is often presented by the right as evidence against racism, but they either neglect to mention or downplay the fact that black Americans are about 13% of the total population while whites are 76.3%. 11.7% of those killed were identified as Hispanic, 1% as Native American and 1% as Asian or Pacific Islander. In 359 cases the race of the victim has not been identified. Identification of the race of these people would, of course, impact the above numbers.
There is, of course, the argument built around the claim that since blacks commit more crimes, they are more likely to be killed by the police. Even if that is assumed, black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by the police despite being 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. In some cities, the disproportion is far greater than the average. For example, in Chicago black Americans are killed at 22 times the rate at which white Americans killed. Looking at the numbers, even assuming that black Americans “commit more crimes”, a black American is still more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police than a white American and more likely to be unarmed when killed. If one looks at the recordings of police using force, the disparity between how white and black Americans are generally treated is clear. For example, consider how Lt. Nazario was treated by the police after being pulled over for “not” having a tag. As such, while the Chauvin trial is an important event, one should be cautious when assessing what it shows—as recent events in congress show.
During the Chauvin trial, Republican representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar were working on creating the America First Caucus. This caucus was to be dedicated to calling for “”common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” While the phrase “America First” is a classic bit of racism, it can “explained away” as being about putting America first. That is, it is a well-established dog-whistle for the racists. But the America First Caucus proposal set aside the dog whistle and simply screamed at the dogs, laying out what has been called a “racism in a jar.” The full platform can be viewed here.
While the Republican party has shown considerable comfort with racism, the leadership of the party pushed back against the America First Caucus. In response to the broad backlash, Greene and Gosar attempted to distance themselves from the document, saying it came from an outside group and seeming to throw their staff under the bus. But the values expressed in the document are clearly consistent with those expressed by Greene and Gosar.
While there are certainly Republicans who sincerely condemn racism, it is important to note two things: racism comes in degree and racists tend to lie. In terms of racism coming in degrees, a racist can sincerely condemn other racists for going too far (from their perspective) in their racism. For example, a casual and pragmatic racist might be fine with using low-intensity racism to their advantage in various ways, such as by dog-whistling to their base to get elected. This racist might be honestly horrified by full-on white supremacy and sincerely disagree with much of what the America First Caucus proposed. But, of course, the casual and pragmatic racist still feeds and waters the monster of racism, albeit just giving it the occasional snack rather than serving it full meals.
In terms of lying, it has been a conscious strategy of racists to conceal their racism behind code phrases. This allows them a degree of plausible deniability, provides them with cover, and is a useful tool for recruiting people deeper into racism. An obvious problem with the America First Caucus platform is that, as noted above, it set aside the dog whistle and yelled at the dogs: the language was so obviously racist and white supremacist that only those utterly ignorant of the history of American racism would fail to immediately understand the message. As such, it seems to have been a stupid strategic error based on mistaken assumptions about what can pass as a dog whistle and how people would react. Roughly put, the caucus platform was simply too openly racist at this time.
While, as noted above, it was condemned and Greene and Gosar had to back away from it, it would be a mistake to think that this is somehow the end of their racism. They, at most, learned the lesson that they still need to use language that is not obviously racist when organizing their racist caucus. And we see what is obvious: despite the results of the Chauvin trial, racism is still a powerful force. But perhaps it is slightly less powerful than it was before.