As the trial of Derek Chauvin continues, the video that shows bystanders begging the former officer to take his knee off of George Floyd’s neck is painful to watch. But the footage is also difficult to avoid as it airs over and over again.
The images are disturbing, particularly to Black and Brown communities, who have long been traumatized by the history of racial injustice in the U.S. Minneapolis racial trauma expert Resmaa Menakem says this trauma is passed down from generation to generation, becoming a physical manifestation of the systemic racism we’re only now starting to acknowledge as a nation.
The impact of tragedies like Floyd’s death goes far beyond the individual who has been brutalized, he says.
“The purpose of doing something like what Derek Chauvin did on camera is to not create terror in the person that he was murdering, but also create terror in the community that was left,” Menakem says. “This is a long history, a long historical trope of murdering Black bodies and Indigenous bodies and then leaving them in the public in order to instill racialized terror and trauma.”
The people of Minneapolis have experienced a great deal of trauma in recent years. In 2016, Philando Castile was shot and killed inside his car after telling the police officer who stopped him that he was legally carrying a gun. Justine Damond, a white woman, was fatally shot by an officer in 2017 as she waited for the police in her alley after she called 911 to report an assault.
People in Menakem’s community are watching select clips of the Chauvin trial, which he recommends. Members of the community are also reaching out to one another and gathering at what he calls “wailing homes” — places where people can let out their emotions and cope with “a sense of communal, overwhelming dread,” he says.
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