The Chauvin Verdict: ‘The Terrain Going Forward Will Not Be the Same’Historians in the News
tags: racism, Police, George Floyd, Derek Chauvin
As the jury’s verdict was read — guilty, guilty, guilty — millions of Americans breathed out.
Despite the widely circulated video capturing Derek Chauvin choking the life out of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street last summer, it was never clear that the former police officer would be convicted of anything, let alone murder. Despite increasing attention to police violence, particularly against Black Americans, it’s still vanishingly rare for officers in the U.S. to be charged, let alone convicted.
So Tuesday’s verdict marked a big moment in the nation’s ongoing racial-justice reckoning, and in the push for more accountability from the police. But will anything more come of it?
POLITICO Magazine asked a select group of experts on race, policing and the law to comment on the verdict, including whether it suggests the system can work and where society needs to go from here.
Several said the verdict offers justice for Floyd but frustratingly little reason to think it signaled broader progress. “Year after year, police officers have killed Black and Brown people in this country with impunity. Many of those cases were also caught on video,” wrote historian Keisha N. Blain. Others noted, hopefully, that Chauvin’s conduct was condemned by some former colleagues. “The fact that several police officials — including Minneapolis’ chief of police — testified that Chauvin’s actions were unethical and criminal signals an important change,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of Police Executive Research Forum.
Policing is still broken
BY SIMON BALTO
Simon Balto is assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa and author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.
I do not presume to speak for George Floyd’s many loved ones. I hope that they find this outcome just and that it brings them peace. Derek Chauvin was clearly guilty of murder. I am glad for people who find relief in the jury’s confirmation of that fact.
But the punishment system — which is really what we have in the United States, as opposed to a justice system — also served itself quite well through the verdict. Chauvin’s conviction allows for those who are within or who support that system to say that it “works” — to claim that the verdict is proof of the system’s supposed fairness and justness. But it doesn’t work. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just. If it were, George Floyd would be alive. Daunte Wright would be alive. Adam Toledo would be alive.
Ordinary Americans ‘have moved well beyond assuming that the police are always right’
BY ROSA BROOKS
Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown and the author of Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City.
The justice system worked. In 1992, after several Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King in an incident that was, like George Floyd’s death, captured on video, a nearly all-white jury acquitted the officers responsible. The jurors in the King case accepted the defense’s argument that they literally should not believe their own eyes, and that what appeared on the video to be a brutal, senseless beating of a helpless man was, if instead viewed frame by frame, a lawful, carefully calibrated use of force in response to ongoing signs of aggression from King.
Today, nearly 30 years later, a far different and more diverse jury had no trouble rejecting similarly tortured arguments from Derek Chauvin’s defense lawyer. Instead of falling for defense claims that Floyd continued to pose a sufficient threat to justify Chauvin keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, the jury chose to believe their own eyes — and what they saw was a man who posed no threat to anyone having his life cruelly pressed out of him.
‘The outcome of the Chauvin case is rare, and therein lies the problem’
BY KEISHA N. BLAIN
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, a 2020-21 Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and author of Set the World on Fire and Until I am Free.
We can — and should — celebrate the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial. Very few officers are ever found guilty of killing unarmed Black people. The fact that Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts sends a powerful message to police officers across the nation that they are not above the law.
That said, we should not be so quick to praise the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Year after year, police officers have killed Black and brown people in this country — many of those cases were also caught on video — with impunity. Countless families have had to endure the pain of losing a loved one while watching the justice system provide cover for members of law enforcement who participated in the killing. The outcome of the Chauvin case is rare, and therein lies the problem.
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