Ocasio-Cortez: “Verdicts Are Not Substitutes for Policy Change”

After a jury on Monday afternoon found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd in Minnesota, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) explained on an Instagram livestream that, though the verdict may be able to bring accountability for Chauvin, it can’t bring about true justice.

“For a lot of us that have been in this fight for justice, in this fight for establishing true safety for our communities, hearing this verdict come in, I think, creates a lot of complex emotions,” Ocasio-Cortez said, standing outside of the Capitol. “On one hand, people are saying, ‘finally, yes, something’s happening.’ And on the other hand…. This isn’t justice.”

She explained that it’s not “justice” because justice would be Floyd and Adam Toledo still alive and a school system that’s not of the school-to-prison pipeline. She also added that while the verdict represents accountability, it still doesn’t represent full accountability, since there were three other officers present when Chauvin was murdering Floyd.

“I don’t want this moment to be framed as this system working. Because it’s not working,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We saw a murder in front of all of our eyes, and yet we didn’t know if there would be a guilty verdict — it tells you everything.”

“Verdicts are not substitutes for policy change. This one case and this one verdict, we still have people getting killed by police every single day on average in the United States,” continued Ocasio-Cortez. “And not every one of them has a cell phone, and not every one of them is a ‘perfect victim,’ as people in media seem to need and want.”

She pointed out that Chauvin is one of a very small group of officers who has ever been found guilty of murder. “A jury doing its job in its system is not a replacement for us doing our job in that system,” she said, pointing at the Capitol building, “and there are way too many people including my colleagues that think that’s the case.”

She criticized the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, noting that it’s important, but ultimately won’t solve the systemic problems of how Black people are valued in the U.S. As Truthout has previously reported, the Justice in Policing Act calls for a set of police reforms that ultimately won’t bring about the change that will prevent police-perpetrated killings in the future as long as it exists in a system that is founded on white supremacy.

Ocasio-Cortez then went on to point out that while Republicans bear responsibility for many of the issues the U.S. faces today, Democrats also have to face their own demons.

“We’ve really got to talk about how Democratically controlled cities still pump and pump and pump police budgets,” she said. “We gotta talk about — even when those Democratic cities pump up those police budgets, do the rape kit logs go down? No.”

The problem isn’t whether or not police departments are funded, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out. In most cities, police department spending accounts for the largest share of a city or municipality’s budget. The problem with that, she says, lies in the fact that politicians at the federal level begin a trickle-down effect of prioritizing militarization and policing more than they prioritize things like health care or housing.

“This problem doesn’t just start with Democratically elected municipalities, it starts here,” she said, pointing at the Capitol. “It starts with the United States Congress, Democrats included, funding a military budget that’s out of control, that militarizes our government structure, and invests in military more than it invests in so many other critical services that we need as a country.”

The U.S.’s military budget is extremely high by any measure. Year by year, the U.S. often spends more than the combined military budgets of the next 10 countries, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars each year. People like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have called for a reduction in that budget, saying that it’s a communication of our national priorities.

“Budgets are moral documents,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “They communicate our priorities. And so long as health care is not number one, health care is not our highest priority. As long as education’s not number one, education is not our highest priority. And so long as weaponry remains the top thing, that’s our number one priority.” She explained that the military budget and prioritization trickles down to cities and local police departments.

“We’re willing to accept violence against some communities as a necessary cost for ‘safety,’” she went on. “Safety from what, from whom? Because what makes me feel safe is being housed. What makes me feel safe is when I’m not going to be thrown out of my home. What makes me feel safe is guaranteed health care.”

Ocasio-Cortez concluded by saying that though the verdict can bring mixed emotions for many people fighting for justice, the important thing is to keep fighting.

“We just want to fight because Black men deserve to grow old in this country. They deserve to see their grandchildren. And so do the rest of us,” she said. “It’s time to keep going. We have to keep going. We have to keep going.”