EdBoard: the Derek Chauvin verdict

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

This past Tuesday, a jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for second-degree manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder. After decades of acquittals for extrajudicial murders by the police, the guilty verdict prompted celebration across the country. While it is a worthy cause to celebrate, it must be tempered with the understanding that guilty verdicts should be the norm, not the exception.

This is yet another pyrrhic victory in the fight for justice and equality. In the time it took for the verdict to be reached, there were already several high-profile police murders of Black people that sparked outrage and protests. Daunte Wright was murdered in Minneapolis, where the officer who murdered him allegedly confused a gun for a taser. Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl, was murdered by Columbus police. According to The New York Times, during the three weeks, the Chauvin trial took place, police officers killed more than three people a day.

There are many in the country who will continue to justify the use of deadly force by saying that officers’ lives are in danger due to the nature of their job. While we understand this point, it would benefit those same people who justify extrajudicial killings to understand officers should be held to a higher standard than the people who are interacting with them, not the other way around. It is hard to maintain composure when there is a loaded gun to your face and a fear that the police officer may murder you. The police can not continue to function as judge, jury, and executioner, especially given the fact that these extrajudicial killings disproportionately impact Black people.

This type of justification for extrajudicial killings is what leads to the police becoming a competing institution, where the formal rules and procedures can be flagrantly violated by police in the name of maintaining law and order. It is often used to describe police violence in countries such as Brazil and Argentina, but it is also apt to describe the police in the U.S. as a competing institution. There is massive corruption amongst the police. Police unions will defend officers for heinous crimes and charges, including attempts to omit the evidence in police brutality cases. The justice system has also given officers immunity from most lawsuits via qualified immunity, leaving victims of police brutality and their family members with little recourse. To make matters worse, many members of the general public will give police a pass for the use of deadly force.

If another civilian hadn’t recorded Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd on camera, Chauvin probably would have been acquitted for his murder. To go one step further, if it were not for the major protests and social media backlash related to the video of the murder, Chauvin probably would have been acquitted for his murder. Even then, the protests and backlash did not guarantee a guilty verdict. This is an indictment of the system more so than it is an indictment of Chauvin himself. No amount of training or policing reforms can fix the corruption and racial bias endemic to the police.

Racism does not improve with time, it only adapts. Chauvin’s indictment is the mere beginning of addressing the perpetual injustice faced by the Black community. As we move forward, we have to demand a list of action items to be implemented that will begin to address the policing crisis and deep-seated racial biases in the U.S. We must abolish qualified immunity and bust police unions. We must shift responsibilities from the police and concentrate resources into more community-oriented solutions. We must ban police raids and demilitarize them. These are all surface-level solutions, but we must start somewhere to alleviate the suffering of the Black community and fix this systemic problem.