Isabel Wilkerson Explains Why There's No Such Thing as Justice for George Floyd

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Elena Nicolaou
·3 min read
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Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images


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On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Nearly a year later, Chauvin was found guilty on three charges, including second-degree murder.

The sentencing led to an outpouring of emotion from crowds gathered outside the Minnesota capitol's courthouse, including relief and celebration. But was the verdict actually justice for Floyd, his family, and Black Americans? For Isabel Wilkerson, the author of Oprah's Book Club pick Caste, the answer is complicated.

"Justice for George Floyd would mean George Floyd would be alive today," Wilkerson wrote in an Instagram caption paired with a photo of Floyd.

Wilkerson proceeded to analyze Floyd's murder through the lens of her nonfiction work, Caste, which Oprah called her most "essential" Book Club pick ever. In Caste, Wilkerson explores what she describes as the United States's caste system, where white people have the most privilege as the dominant caste, and Black people have the least. In her post, Wilkerson points out that Floyd's death never would have happened to a person born to the dominant caste.

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She wrote: "The officers who stood by and did nothing. The intimidation and fear exerted onto helpless bystanders. The hierarchy that allowed a now-convicted murderer to assault other citizens before he arrested George Floyd, priming this officer to believe that he could get away with anything. The rush to arrest a Black man, guns drawn, for an offense that warranted nothing more than a citation, according to testimony, which means the entire arrest should never have happened—and would not have happened, we know, to a person born to the dominant caste."

Wilkerson added, "One man may be headed to jail but an entire system is culpable."

Although Floyd's death beneath Chauvin's knee ignited protests around the world, the trial's guilty verdicts were hardly guaranteed, which Wilkerson summarized in her caption.

"One man may be headed to jail but an entire system is culpable."

"It took absolutely everything for a verdict so rare it will make headlines across the world," Wilkerson wrote. "It took a high-definition video of the entire scene, bravely recorded by a teenager. It took wrenching testimony from still-traumatized bystanders, among them a 9-year-old. It took clear-eyed testimony from emergency technicians and unimpeachable medical examiners with state-of-the art graphics. It took incontrovertible testimony from the defendant's own police chief."

The system, according to Wilkerson, is the problem—and the system was not given a guilty verdict. A man was. "And still we held our breath. It took everything to reach this one rare verdict. And we know that if it weren't for a video showing 9 minutes and 29 seconds of an officer's knee on George Floyd's neck, the case might not have seen the light of day. How many George Floyds are there whose names we will never know?" Wilkerson asked.

Wilkerson's post ends with a final question: "What will it take to correct a system so that there will never, ever be another one?"

According to Oprah, it's possible Wilkerson's book itself may offer a path forward. "We have a moment now to rebuild a world without a caste hierarchy—a world in which all are truly equal and free," Oprah said while announcing Caste as an Oprah's Book Club pick in August 2020. "I believe this book shows us the way to that world—this book may well help save us."

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