USA POLICING: There Will Be More Derek Chauvins – Adam Serwer | The Atlantic

Powerful political actors are committed to ensuring that the system of American policing remains unchanged.

Adam Serwer | The Atlantic

During his closing argument, Steve Schleicher, one of the prosecutors trying the former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, insisted that jurors could convict Chauvin without convicting policing.

“This is not an anti-police prosecution,” Schleicher told the jury. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

For his part, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, told the jury that “all of the evidence shows that Mr. Chauvin thought he was following his training. He was, in fact, following his training.”               

BOTH WERE CORRECT. 

In May 2020, four days after the harrowing video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he begged for his life was first seen by the public, Chauvin became one of the few police officers ever indicted for killing someone in the line of duty. Yesterday, as my colleague David A. Graham wrote, he became one of the even fewer to be convicted.

The video of Floyd’s murder sparked what may have been the largest civil-rights protests in American history; it was the most consequential entry in a thick catalog of police abuses recorded by cellphone cameras. But whatever verdict the jury rendered; police advocates would have claimed victory.

CHAUVIN’S ACQUITTAL WOULD HAVE REINFORCED THE PRESUMPTION THAT ANY USE OF FORCE BY A WHITE POLICE OFFICER AGAINST A BLACK MAN IS REASONABLE.

Chauvin’s conviction, though, was swiftly claimed as affirmation that the current system is capable of dispensing justice. Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Patrick Yoes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, declared that “our system of justice worked as it should.” 

BUT THE SYSTEM SELDOM WORKS THIS WAY. Police are rarely fired, let alone criminally convicted, for the use of force. Chauvin’s nonchalance in the video as Floyd begs for his life, and the apparent inaction of the officers around him, represent more than individual indifference to human life. They are a reflection of a system that rarely holds officers accountable for abusing their powers, and a society that expects police to dispense “rough justice”. 

Police unions have successfully instituted rules that make it tremendously difficult for officers who abuse their powers to be fired. The doctrine of qualified immunity means that officers are very rarely liable in civil court for violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. Officers themselves are discouraged from speaking up about colleagues who regularly engage in such behavior, because they may be labeled rats and feel ostracized, and the officers they name are unlikely to face sanction anyway, rendering such courage both futile and self-destructive.

Although courts sometimes correct egregious abuses — they may exclude evidence that is unlawfully obtained or disregard forced confessions — most interactions between the public and officers who abuse their authority never see the inside of a courtroom.

Instead, they take place in a legal nether-realm, where people who have committed no crime at all can be abused with impunity so long as no one whips out a cellphone camera. Indeed, if not for the bravery of Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the video of Floyd’s arrest, his death might have been falsely attributed in official records to his “physically resist[ing]” officers. It might have simply been another in the hundreds of incidents in which officers in Minnesota used neck restraints on suspects.

There are significant systemic barriers to holding police accountable for misconduct, but there are also cultural ones. Many Americans want police to “rough up” those considered to be criminals or proximate to criminality — an expectation that has persisted for generations. 

“Progressive reformers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century … took aim at police corruption but often saw nothing wrong with encouraging officers to use their nightsticks liberally against criminals and reprobates,” the Stanford Law professor and former prosecutor David Alan Sklansky writes in A Pattern of Violence. “Newspapers praised ‘beneficial clubbing’ by the police. Many reformers linked police corruption with toleration of vice; they wanted the police to get tough with lawbreakers.” 

That expectation swells during periods of rising crime. In the 1970s and ’80s, Sklansky writes, a “growing concern about violent crime” made “many people tolerant of, or even eager for, ‘rough tactics’ by the police. Just as in earlier eras, there was a growing sentiment that it was time for the police to take their gloves off.” When former President Donald Trump encouraged an audience of police on Long Island in 2017 to abuse suspects in their custody, the officers laughed because Trump was articulating that unstated expectation in his own blunt fashion. 

THERE WILL BE MORE DEREK CHAUVINS, BECAUSE HIS CONVICTION ALTERS NOTHING ABOUT THIS SYSTEM. It does not change the fact that police who engage in such behavior can expect to rely on the silence of their colleagues, the elaborate protections established by legal doctrine and collective bargaining, and the quiet expectation that hurting the “right” people is an admirable part of the job. To the contrary:  

Powerful political actors are committed to ensuring that this system remains unchanged, some of whom are praising Chauvin’s conviction as justice being served. 

After the verdict was announced, though, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Chauvin’s conviction an “ATTACK ON CIVILIZATION”.

AND IN THIS SENSE ALONE HE WAS RIGHT: It is an attack on a certain idea of civilization when a white police officer is convicted for killing a Black man. 

AMERICA’S TRADITIONAL RACIAL HIERARCHY IS ERODED BY THE NOTION THAT THE LIVES OF TWO SUCH PEOPLE HAVE EQUAL VALUE.

For most of its existence, American law assumed, tacitly or explicitly, that such violence was how “civilization” was maintained, an assumption that shapes both politics and law enforcement to this day.

The challenge for those disgusted by Chauvin’s conviction is to defend impunity for such violence as an essential part of their ideal society, without explicitly acknowledging its nature.

When Chauvin’s defense attorney said Chauvin was merely following his training, he may not have been strictly correct about Chauvin’s use of a particular neck restraint. But he was probably right that Chauvin was doing what he believed he was both allowed and expected to do.

The next Chauvin will feel the same way. But next time, there may not be a brave person with a camera to bear unimpeachable witness. 

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Comments

  • Dennis Albert  On 04/26/2021 at 1:04 am

    The catch-22 with Guyanese parents and their children is that they were taught to obey the authority figures like the police in Guyana, yet the police in the ABCEU countries would not hesitate to put a bullet into our brains for the sake of white dominance.

    NEVER trust the police, lawyers, courts, teachers and governmental systems which boost white dominance and white supremacy. The ABCEU countries are not like the “third world”.

    Those countries were founded, developed and became “first world” on racism and murder of non-whites.

    • Morning star  On 04/26/2021 at 3:30 am

      Chauvin will get himself a couple of wives in jail !!!

      Not all white people are racist . Racism will never go away !!!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/27/2021 at 12:49 am

    ‘A Harder Case To Prove’:

    What Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict Means for the Three Other Officers

    Eric Ferkenhoff and Grace Hauck | USA TODAY

    Prosecutors may have secured a conviction against Derek Chauvin, but legal experts say the case against the three other former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death is the harder one to prove.

    “Their case isn’t a slam-dunk by any stretch of the imagination,” said Bradford Colbert, a Minnesota public defender and law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul.

    Lawyers note the defense now has the advantage of seeing the state’s arguments in Chauvin’s trial and may claim that THE OTHER OFFICERS WERE SIMPLY FOLLOWING CHAUVIN’S LEAD as the most senior officer on the scene that day.

    “Given the other officers’ more limited role, that will be a harder case to prove,” said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal defense attorney and law professor at Mitchell Hamline. “Not impossible, but more difficult.”

    ANOTHER HURDLE FOR PROSECUTORS: Two of the officers were rookies with less than four days on the force as full officers. The lack of experience of those officers stands in stark contrast to Chauvin, a 19-year veteran who had trained one of the rookies.

    Justin Hansford, a civil rights activist and law professor at Howard University, said:

    “I think that the main impact from their perspective is on their calculation as to whether a jury is likely to give a conviction. If I was a lawyer for the other police, I would say that a plea deal is looking better and better.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/27/2021 at 1:07 am

    Re: The comment in the above essay:

    “I think that the main impact from their perspective is on their calculation as to whether a jury is likely to give a conviction. If I was a lawyer for the other police, I would say that a plea deal is looking better and better.”

    In another forum, a former prosecutor opined that a “plea deal” is only practical in the event the prosecutor was looking to convict Chauvin – Chauvin has already been convicted.

    CASE AGAINST OFFICERS ‘ABSOLUTELY’ MORE DIFFICULT TO PROVE

    They may invoke the Nuremberg Defense: Superior orders or just following orders can only be considered in mitigation of punishment. The rationale of this doctrine is that the obligation to obey superior orders is generally limited to lawful orders only.

    On the other hand, Thao had 9-Years service in the force and far more experience – and about 6-prior complaints against him, also the city of Minneapolis had settled at least one lawsuit against him.

    It is very likely, Thao will be convicted.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/27/2021 at 1:09 am

    FACEBOOK: Michael Moore

    Before the Oscars begin, if I may, in this year of Reckoning, I want to honor what is truly and unmistakably the most important film of the year.

    It was only 8 minutes and 46 seconds long. It was filmed by a 17-year old young woman under excruciating and courageous circumstances. She stood on a curb in Minneapolis, framed her camera perfectly, and held it steady as the murdering cop stared directly into her lens with the steely, frighteningly look of “YOU’RE NEXT”.

    But she wouldn’t stop. And because she didn’t, the whole world saw what Black America has witnessed for 400 years. And now we know this is a daily occurrence. And not just the murdering of Black people with guns or knees (lynching), but with poverty, hunger, awful schools, crap jobs, mass incarceration, no health care — a daily killing of body and spirit and hope.

    Thank you Darnella Frazier for your gift, for creating a moment of justice. Much more to do for sure. But for tonight, assuming most of the Academy would agree, please accept this virtual Oscar for your moving picture that moved billions. Some day, I hope to hand you the real thing! Many blessings to you.

    • Chris  On 04/27/2021 at 2:01 am

      This talk about weeding out the bad apples in the police force is nonsense. It is systemic. It is a way of life in America.

      One must ask the question whether these white officers with a gun in hand would open fire if a white suspect is attempting to get away from them?

      The answer is, “highly unlikely “. It is clear that white policemen are waging war on blacks as they have been doing since slavery. When was the last time you heard about a white person getting shot by police? They are likely to buy them a hamburger and a beverage.

      If the federal government doesn’t make laws against police violence, black people will always have to fear getting killed whenever they are pulled over.

      When an emotionally unstable person acts up, it’s best not to call the police. Find another way to calm down the situation. Calling the police is a death sentence.

      I am sick and tired about reading or hearing about the same thing over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day. This carnage and hatred has to stop!

      Enough is enough.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/29/2021 at 1:24 am

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