Nine minutes, 29 seconds

Illustration by Evan Koenigs | The Signal

It’s been a year and some since the police murdered George Floyd. The events should be familiar by now.

A cashier accused Floyd of paying counterfeit bills at the corner store, Cup Foods – buying cigarettes. A constellation of cops arrived on the scene soon after. 

Floyd was apprehended and walked across the street to the spot by which Officer Derek Chauvin would asphyxiate him for nine and some minutes. During the last two minutes, Officer Tou Thao said to witnesses nearby: “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.” 

Floyd was dead by the seventh minute. Prosecutors later spent some fifteen minutes discussing the fake cash. 

Being an American in 2020 meant you had seen the video. Being alive in 2020 meant you had at least seen the image. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets because they had seen the video. 

Rarely do we endow seeing with that much importance. Here, though, the images were their own truth: the murder was an act of racism.

Anyone thinking about racism encounters a common problem, nonetheless. 

Most write about racism as either ad-hoc, recounting specified and delimited interactions between individuals – or like an intricately oblique structure, ineffable.

Our vernacular has gained a new prefix for racism: systemic. I am generally unopposed to talk of systems. I prefer trying to gesture towards the immensity of racism and the profundity of its logic. 

I will be plain: the prefix indicates, at some level, a degree of political thinking. We should all think politically.

Though the arrival of the prefix has brought us back to the common problem, we are still talking around the idea, sitting outside of it. The system has no grounding: it is an enigmatic but quiet subject activated by things and people. 

We are again thoroughly apolitical. We are avoiding difficult questions.

Are cops all racist? We should answer “yes,” but only so far as the cop is part of a racist system. We might be allowed this – but where is the system?

You could follow Chauvin back to his local precinct and stare at the bricks awhile. You can stare at the armed cop, entangled in Kevlar panels and flanked by a nylon holster. You can watch patrol cars make their circuit. Tell me when the social hieroglyphics unravel themselves for you.

We too seldom believe in time; we rarely believe our senses. Political thought asks us to formulate the origins of a Chauvin, an enduring and untimed system from which he burst forth – and there is a necessity to this. 

Though practical thought asks us to deal with what we have seen in its facticity, we have no prism which reveals the connection of Chauvin to the cosmos of racism – we must make do with our senses. 

The murder of George Floyd was racist. The video played out the proof of the system in nine minutes – it was bound up in one man who breathes and lives today, a man who can be seen and touched. There was the system on the pavement: Derek Chauvin, killer cop.