Chauvin guilty verdict victory tempered by the persistence of police violence

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News Analysis

The celebration that took place in the Twin Cities after the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was somewhat muted. Many activists speaking at rallies acknowledged what many called a “people’s victory,” but also stressed that there is much work still to be done.

Some said the conviction should have been a foregone conclusion, after all, they asked, what other verdict could have been reached? An Australian newspaper, The Batoota Advocate, ran a headline that read, “Murderer who got caught committing murder on video found guilty of murder.”

Historically, so many police officers have either been exonerated and not faced indictment or been found innocent of killing Black people after being charged, that few Black people could be found who had confidence in a conviction. Even “Saturday Night Live” acknowledged this in a skit during the trial. And the U.S. Supreme Court has set the bar high, making it difficult to convict police officers by allowing them to hide behind “reasonableness” standards and the well-worn phrase “I feared for my life.”

“Our families will not be quiet because of this conviction. The police have caused so much pain and so much hurt. Too much pain and hurt for us to get too excited about one rinky-dink cop [Chauvin] taken off the street. They need to reopen all the cases involving police violence,” said Toshria Garraway, the founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence one of the groups that were actively leading efforts for the prosecution of Floyd’s killer. Her fiancé, Justin Teigen, and the father of her son, was found beaten to death by St. Paul police in 2009, and his body was thrown into a dumpster.

“The media and powers that be will try to argue that the Floyd verdict shows that the justice system works. It doesn’t. Chauvin is one out of thousands. A clock is right twice a day, but I can count on one hand how many times the courts have been right in a decade,” said Brian Taylor longtime fighter for human rights and anti-police violence activist visiting Minneapolis from Cincinnati.

Taylor and many others attribute Chauvin’s prosecution and conviction to the movement of people in the streets. Community members, activists and in particular families of those victimized by police violence, led the charge demanding that all four police officers involved in the murder of Floyd–Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J Alexander Kueng and Chauvin–be charged to the fullest extent of the law.

Misconduct continued through the trial

Before the trial could conclude, on April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who has subsequently been charged with second-degree murder. State and local police responded violently in the days following his death to overwhelmingly peaceful protesters demanding prosecution of Potter. Law enforcement not only targeted and jailed peaceful protesters, attacking them with tear gas and supposedly non-lethal projectiles, but they also maced, jailed, and beat members of the press. 

Also during the trial, Minneapolis police were involved in an incident in which one of their officers was caught on video beating a youth while he was being held by other officers. Activists called a press conference to denounce the action, pointing out that police seemed to be trying to provoke the community because they were upset that one of their own may have to pay for his misdeeds. Community members also pointed out that this behavior flies in the face of the testimony given by Minneapolis Police Chief  Medaria Arradondo, who painted the police department as sensitive to the needs of the community.

More victims of police violence

Family Photo/MGN Andrew Brown was identified as the man shot and killed by sheriff’s deputy in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Not long after the news that Chauvin had been convicted hit the airwaves, police in Columbus, Ohio, had shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. In Elizabeth City, North Carolina, police shot and killed Andrew Brown, Jr. after he tried to get away from police in his car when they attempted to serve him with a warrant.

According to the website Gun Violence Archive, since the start of the Chauvin trial to his conviction, 103 people were shot and killed by law enforcement.

“So many more families have been ignored. There have been over 470 murders in the last 20 years in Minnesota. There are hundreds more officers that are still out here; they need to be held accountable. I was happy for the family of George Floyd. The police who took Justin’s life are still out there and many others who have killed our loved ones are still out there,” said Garraway.

“Enough is enough! We can’t continue to have our families re-traumatized over and over and they show up at funerals where a young man should be alive and you show up with these fake tears while ignoring the cries of these other families,” she said referring to the appearance at Daunte Wright’s funeral of Gov. Tim Walz, and Senator Amy Klobuchar who failed to prosecute police for misconduct during her term as Hennepin County Attorney.

Demands that the “killer cops” be jailed and that all the cases of police violence that resulted in death be reopened were advanced by speakers at rallies held around the Twin Cities including downtown Minneapolis and George Floyd Square.

Reminiscent of the bad old days

The presence of Deborah Watts, who is the cousin of Emmett Till at one of the rallies after the conviction, and the video of Chauvin literally squeezing the life out of Floyd with his knee, reminded many of the really bad old days of lynching and racial terrorism.

For some, the people standing around that “bouquet of humanity” as prosecution attorney Jerry Blackwell called them, made them harken back to those days in which Whites murdered Blacks with impunity with no consequences. And it reminded folks of helpless Black folks or anybody else on the scene of a murder that was helpless to do anything about it.

Nearly swept under the rug

This case may likely have resulted in the officers being cleared because the initial police report about Floyd’s fatal arrest made no mention of what we now know really occurred.

“He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later,” is what Minneapolis police spokesperson John Elder had written about the incident.

When challenged by the mainstream media, Elder claimed, “This had literally zero intent to deceive or be dishonest or disingenuous. Had we known that this [situation] was what we saw on the video, that statement would have been completely different.”

There is a good chance that this case would have been swept under the rug if Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo had not received a call from a citizen urging him to take a long look at the video then- 17-year-old Darnella Frazier had uploaded to Facebook.

Hennepin County Attorney Micheal Freeman has a history of clearing White officers in the deaths of Black people. His presence at the prosecution team’s press conference after the verdict struck a sour note with many, especially when he said, ”We need to prevent these killings in the first place, make policing fair and safer for all, especially for Black men and women and other People of Color.”

As many have noted at demonstrations, it appeared that the system had an easier time indicting and convicting a Black officer, Mohamed Noor, for killing a White woman (Justine Ruszczyk Damond).  Noor shot and killed Damond near her home in July of 2017. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in 2019.

A problem of the system of policing

 “Too often in these cases, juries are rarely impartial; they seem more inclined to exonerate and acquit when the defendant is White,” wrote Keith Mayes in a Washington Post editorial.

“This has to end. We need true justice that’s not one case that is a social transformation that says that nobody is beneath the law and nobody is above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring systemic societal change,” said Minnesota Attorney General at the press conference following the verdict. “We need to use this verdict as an inflection point. What if we just prevented this problem instead of having to try these cases?”

“The system that allows them to keep killing us is still in place,” Garraway said. “It’s like they threw us a bone. They didn’t do it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they were afraid of the consequences if they did not do the right thing,” she said. “If they had listened to the community in the first place and had police accountability, there would have been no George Floyd. Until that system is dismantled we are still going to catch hell.”