Finally justice: now for the courage to heal

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation (DLTLF) commends the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, the American policeman who last year knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd suffocated to death.

“This landmark case of police accountability is a profound and historic moment in the struggle for justice,” says DLTLF CEO Piyushi Kotecha. “Yet, it is also only one step in dismantling systemic racism and reckoning with excessive state violence against black people and minorities, as well as vital reforms of policing in the United States, South Africa and across the world.”

Change is afoot and, ultimately, justice can triumph, but only if enough people will speak truth to power in the face of injustice.

More than 27 years after the defeat of apartheid, South Africa continues its own reckoning. Last year, Collins Khoza’s death in Alexandra township at the hands of the South African National Defence Force became a rallying point against violence within the country’s own borders.

“Although both Collins Khoza and George Floyd technically enjoyed the same constitutional rights as their white, wealthy or otherwise privileged compatriots in their respective countries, the actions of the South African soldiers and the American police who killed them reflect the painful truth. Our societies and our systems still place different values on different lives,” says Kotecha.

Once again, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s timeless wisdom prevails, when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The Foundation also salutes brave teenager Darnella Frazier, who at 17 had the courageous presence of mind to pull out her phone and record the terrible incident.

Through her viral video, people across the world witnessed Floyd’s brutal murder, igniting sustained mass protests. Frazier voiced her despair at not having done more to save Floyd during her compelling court testimony, but it was her actions that made a criminal conviction possible, as did a meticulously presented case by the prosecution.

The tens of thousands of black, white, Latino, Asian and indigenous citizens, mainly young people, who demonstrated non-violently against racism and injustice on the streets of American cities and across the globe have spearheaded a global movement for change. Their demand for equality, dignity and justice is catalysing much-needed and promising legislative and institutional change.

Kotecha emphasises, “While racial reconciliation may be the ultimate goal, truthful reckoning, justice and accountability must come first for transformative impact to follow.”

Last year, at the time of George Floyd’s murder, the DLTLF shared an extraordinary resonant statement from our Tutu archives. In 1985, Archbishop Tutu said presciently at the National Initiative for Reconciliation conference in Johannesburg: “It’s hard to shake your hand when your foot is on my neck.” At the time, this was a resounding message to leaders of the apartheid government.

This groundbreaking, momentous judgment in the US is a liberating triumph for humanity, one that enables us to breathe again. To move forward, however, a new kind of courage will be required – the courage to heal.

Let us embrace this historic decision as a call to build safe and healthy societies, and to teach our children throughout the world to respect the dignity and rights of each and every citizen, equally, with “liberty and justice for all”.

Photo credit: Clay Banks