April 21, 2021
New Orleans The Minneapolis trial of former policeman Derek Chauvin, whose more than nine-minute chokehold killed George Floyd, was a classic case where the jury was confronted by the prosecutor with a version of the famous Richard Pryor line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” This time the “lying eyes” won by a landslide with guilty verdicts on all three counts. Chauvin as a first-time offender faces somewhere around twelve-and-a-half years though the guidelines go up to forty years and the prosecutors have asked for an “extended” sentence when the judge hands one down.
How do we score a win here? Justice or luck? Likely, it’s both, but since luck is in the formula, that doesn’t mean we are about to see a lot more justice in other police killings of civilians, especially when racialized.
How many times are we going to have on our side such compelling and uncontestable video? Not often, so special thanks to a teenage bystander with a fast finger on her cellphone. Police body cameras are not a panacea. Sometimes they “forget” to turn them on. Other times the angles have been bad, and the video blurred. Face it, way too many of these police-citizen encounters are not in public, not in the daylight, and not standing still. Cameras won’t bring justice, only a fundamental change in police culture, procedures and protocols.
How many times is a state Attorney General going to take the case away from the local prosecutors to try to achieve justice, as former Congressman and now Minnesota AG Keith Ellison did? That’s a political unicorn. In many states, prosecutors in big Democratic cities are paired with Republican AGs, and if one didn’t move forward, the other is not going to go after the police for darned sure. Reverend Al Sharpton was right to thank Ellison after the verdict. He earned it.
How many times will police killings spark consistent, long lasting protest nationally? Everyone who hit the streets, put up a Black Lives Matter sign, and stood against this killing owns a small piece of this verdict for pushing it to the front and center of national politics and making police reform a critical issue. Nonetheless, too often that’s lightning striking, and it’s hard to duplicate.
One thing that I have to believe though, despite my cynicism in general, is that for at least a little while, there will be no police of sound mind and body who are working in the streets now who won’t think twice, three times, and forever before they put their knees on someone’s neck and don’t get stepping quickly if they do.