Chauvin verdict: opinions vary on police reform implications

Police retreat after clearing the crime scene after Brooklyn Center police shot and killed Daunte Wright. Chris Juhn/MSR News

Nearly all Americans agree with the conviction of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Opinion remains divided, however, on whether or not it represents cause for greater confidence in the criminal justice system for Blacks and other Communities of Color.

A Morning Consult survey conducted after last Tuesday’s Chauvin verdict (April 20-22) found 91% of Blacks approve of Chauvin being found guilty on all three charges. Almost 60 percent (57%) of Blacks said they were “surprised,” 59% were “confident,” and 74% were “happy” when the verdict was handed down.

But when the poll asked respondents if the Chauvin verdict gave them more confidence in the U.S. criminal justice system, there was only a two-percent difference between Blacks (54%) and Whites (52%).

Angela Porter
Submitted photo Angela Porter

Local attorney and law professor Angi Porter closely followed the Chauvin trial from jury selection to the verdict handed down. She regularly gave expert analysis on Sirius XM during the trial. 

“My reaction to the verdict was elated,” said Porter, “[and] especially surprised because of the timing of deliberations—less than 11 hours.”

Porter, a Rochester, Minn. native who currently lives and works in Minneapolis, is a discrimination and sexual misconduct investigator at the University of Minnesota and a Mitchell Hamline School of Law adjunct professor. She also practiced law for several years at a local large law firm and once worked as a U.S. District Court judicial law clerk.

She thought that “Juror 52,” (Brandon Mitchell, a Black man who has since come forward to speak about his experience as a juror), would have been very influential if selected as a jury member. “All of his answers [during the jury selection process] were very good, and you could tell he has a strong sense of identity,” observed Porter. “There’s no way he would acquit Derek Chauvin.”

Darnella Frazier’s video was the trial’s key pivotal point, noted Porter. “We can’t praise that sistah enough,” she stressed. Frazier’s video showed a different angle on what happened to Floyd than did the police body camera views presented during the trial.

“I’ve been following [the use of police body cameras] since Jamar Clark was killed in 2015,” continued the attorney.  “The body cams are from the perspective of the police, from their vantage point. You don’t see the expression on their faces, for example. You don’t see things that they do with their arms.

“Frazier had a continuous video,” she pointed out.  “By having the courage to post it immediately, she had such an impact on how this played out, not just the trial and the investigation. The global outcry was absolutely pivotal. Because she was at that bystander angle, we didn’t have to rely on body cams.”

University of Southern California Assistant Communications and Journalism Professor Allissa Richardson said Frazier’s video “needs to be cemented in history.” Richardson studies how mobile and social media can be used by marginalized communities to produce innovative forms of journalism.

Submitted photo Allissa Richardson

“She [held] her camera [and was] quiet not to narrate over it. She showed incredible bravery in becoming [a] witness while Black,” said Richardson of Frazier, whose video and its impact will be included in her upcoming book “Bearing Witness While Black.”

Porter said the Chauvin trial also showed racial bias, which sometimes in her opinion came off very badly. The defense throughout the trial often used racial stereotypes, portraying Floyd as “this huge, humongous person who was high on adrenaline and high on drugs,” she observed.

“It made a lot of people mad because it does hit on those historic stereotypes.” Even the jury questionnaire included “overt questions regarding racial issues that are being talked about these days in the country,” such as the individual’s feelings about Black Lives Matter, she added.

She also was critical of presiding Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill’s admonishment of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters prior to the jury deliberations. “I thought it was gratuitous… inappropriate,” she said. “I think we need to examine and critique [the trial].” 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s role in the Chauvin trial cannot be overlooked or underestimated, said Porter. “I saw him as being a pivotal figure even though he wasn’t actually the key [prosecutor],” she noted. “He was unapologetic in pursuing these charges. He created a great team.”

The attorney also warned against being complacent because of the guilty verdict. Chauvin’s sentencing isn’t until mid-June. The three other former police officers must still stand trial for their involvement in Floyd’s death, and their trial is scheduled for later this year. “We have a lot to monitor,” she said.

Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement in Los Angeles, told the MSR that now that the trial is over we must begin conversations for change.

“The three things that I would offer [are] number one, build community with others outside of the community,” Smith-Pollard said. “Number two, honor what’s been lost,” such the Floyd family and others must do who are still grieving his death. “And number three, give people an action item [such as] the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” which has been passed by the U.S. House and awaits action by the U.S. Senate.

A group of 38 faith, social justice, health care, social service, and other cosigning organizations sent a letter to the Minnesota Legislature last week urging lawmakers to pass a set of police accountability bills in this session.