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Five Times When The Law Said No To Racism

April 23, 2021
The George Floyd Memorial outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota
via @Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 @Lorie Shaull

On April 19th, 2021, a jury declared former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. It had been nearly a year since Chauvin had arrested Floyd on suspicion of trying to use a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. While Floyd was handcuffed and pinned to the ground, Chauvin killed him by pressing his knee on his neck for over nine minutes. After Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country and people demanded change. Floyd’s death became a symbol of systemic racism and unjust police brutality against the African-American community, and the case against Chauvin became a moment of reckoning.

Lorie Shaull from St Paul, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

While the trial was taking place, people gathered outside the courthouse in anticipation of the verdict. When Chauvin was found guilty, people outside the courthouse began to cheer. For the first time in Minnesota court history, a white police officer was convicted of killing a Black man. For the first time, justice was served. The State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin will likely be considered a landmark case because the outcome sent a clear message: police should be made accountable for their actions, systemic racism is an issue, everyone deserves justice, and BLACK LIVES MATTER.

The results of landmark court cases involving racism have played a significant role in the history of the United States. From Brown v. Board of Education to Loving v. Virginia, these cases declared that it was illegal to deny things like housing, education, and marriage to someone because of their race. Take a look at these groundbreaking cases.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)
The Shelleys were an African-American family who purchased a home in St. Louis, Missouri. Unbeknownst to them, a restrictive rule had been placed on the property preventing African-Americans from buying it. Ten blocks away, local resident Mr. Kraemer took legal action to stop the Shelleys from occupying the property. The case reached the Supreme Court that then struck down rules that were racist in nature.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
A public school in Topeka, Kansas refused to enroll Linda Brown, a local Black resident, forcing her to ride a bus to a school farther away. Her father, Oliver Brown, and twelve other local Black families filed a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education, stating that racial segregation (or discrimination based on skin color) wasn’t constitutional. They won, as the court declared unanimously in favor of the Brown family, so they could enroll their child in a public school of their choice and couldn’t be denied admission based on race.

The Heart of Atlanta Motel v. The United States (1964)
Can a hotel ban guests because of their race? That’s what the US Supreme Court tried to resolve when a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia refused to allow African-Americans to rent any of the 216 available rooms. The owner claimed that forcing him to rent out rooms to people of all races was a violation of his freedom, but the court ruled that the motel had no right “to select its guests as it sees fit.”

Loving v. Virginia (1967)
Mildred Loving, a woman of color, and her white husband were sentenced to prison for marrying each other and violating the Virginia Act of 1924 that banned interracial marriage. They appealed to the US Supreme Court, where the case was heard and the Act was struck down, because it was considered a race-based legal restriction.