Following the conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd by a jury, police chiefs across the country began to speak out. It wasn’t really to protect the cops.
The conviction of Chauvin on Tuesday, according to New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, demonstrated that “police officers are not above the rules.”
The sheriff of Cincinnati, Charmaine McGuffey, called it a “necessary move” towards healing a country torn apart by police brutality. Americans should breathe a “collective sigh of relief,” according to Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Chauvin’s arrest, according to law enforcement officials, is a step towards rebuilding confidence in the criminal justice system and improving connections between police and the communities they represent.
It was a significant change from previous years when even the highest levels of command would close ranks around an officer after an on-duty killing.
However, both police officials and critics warned that a single case would not be enough to end racial profiling or eliminate unnecessary force in police forces around the country.
“The American justice system has not always served all of its people well, and the death of George Floyd is a stunning illustration of where we might fail each other,” said Shon Barnes, a Black Madison, Wisconsin police chief. “As a law enforcement officer, I agree that today justice has triumphed. We are aware of your concerns. This is a critical moment.”
Jurors saw footage from bystanders and police body cameras during Chauvin’s trial, and heard witnesses explain how the white officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck as the Black man cried out, “I can’t breathe.”
Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis Police Department testified against Chauvin, cracking the “blue wall of silence” that has long surrounded transparency for police misconduct. Arradondo told the jury that Chauvin’s actions were against department policy, training, and “certainly not part of our principles or values.”
Some major unions representing rank-and-file officers backed the decision, but it’s unclear if that opinion was shared by everyone, given that the standard practice is to protect officers right away.
Floyd’s death in May sparked weekly demonstrations across the United States, with demonstrators calling for the police force to be dismantled or dramatically rethought.
Since then, some police forces have implemented reforms, such as prohibiting chokeholds or establishing deadlines for the release of body-camera footage of fatal police encounters, and many state legislators are considering police reform legislation.
Activists committed to structural reforms in American policing have blasted those moves as insufficient.
However, Chauvin’s conviction brought cautious optimism to those who had seen cops escape punishment for other killings of Black Americans, from Eric Garner’s chokehold death in New York City in 2014 to Daniel Prude’s suffocation in Rochester, New York, last year.
Chauvin’s arrest, according to activist Isaac Wallner, indicates that the country is beginning to take Black communities’ complaints about police brutality seriously.
However, he claimed that a single conviction would not make him feel secure in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where no officers have been charged in the shooting of Jacob Blake last year.
“I’ll continue to be scared of the police until the day comes that they are afraid to misuse their badge,” Wallner told The Associated Press. “They aren’t scared right now because so many of them have gotten off.”
The verdict, according to law enforcement officials in both large and small cities, is just the first move.
“The work of bringing George Floyd to justice does not stop today,” said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. “My wish for those of us working in criminal justice is that we rise to the occasion and learn the lessons that history has been trying to teach us for decades.”
“It is past time we keep law enforcement officers who tarnish our profession and oath accountable for deplorable actions,” Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam said.
Last year, law enforcement officials from around the country took the unprecedented step of condemning Chauvin’s conduct because the bystander video was “shocking to the conscience,” according to Acevedo, the Miami police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
“Anyone who questions the validity of this belief, I would suggest they really need to look at their own gut because I doubt their humanity,” Acevedo told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
And several police unions were in Favour of the decision.
The National Fraternal Order of Police’s chief, Patrick Yoes, said the “trial was fair and due process was served.”
Officers’ unions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose said the decision was “just” and that it provided a “opportunity to change how our country is policed.” “What Derek Chauvin did that day was not policing,” said Patrick Lynch, the typically abrasive president of New York City’s officers union. It was a homicide.”
The Minneapolis police union thanked the jurors for their service but chastised elected officials for what it called political pandering and divisive remarks regarding cops.
The Minneapolis Police Officers Federation issued a statement saying, “There are no winners in this situation, and we support the jury’s decision.”
For Black officers, who see policing and race struggles in both their job and personal lives, the decision was particularly significant and difficult.
The president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, Terrance Hopkins, expressed relief that Chauvin was found guilty, but admitted that “it’s hard to see an officer take a fall like this.”
Hopkins, a senior Dallas police corporal, said, “It helps me do my job because this is how we create trust.” “By not keeping officers accountable, we have taken away their trust.”
In “inner cities and very diverse neighborhoods,” said Malik Aziz, former executive director of the National Black Police Association and incoming chief in Prince George’s County, Maryland, “tattered bonds between police and communities have been driven by decades of poverty, inadequate education, and a lack of economic opportunity.” He believes that officers alone would not be able to solve the problems.
“Until we face the reality of any systemic or institutional racism, sexism, bigotry, or poverty,” Aziz said, “these things will continue to flourish.” “This should not be a day of celebration, but rather a day for us to have a real conversation.”
- Police Chief: AP