How Do You Spell Relief?

Yesterday at five o’clock, the jury rendered its verdict in the Derek Chauvin case. I was hardly the only person on pins and needles, waiting for that verdict. (I’m certainly not the only person to comment on the result, and I’m unlikely to say anything particularly original. Nevertheless, this verdict was too significant to ignore.)

As a lawyer–albeit a “recovered” one– I am well aware that what the public sees through publicity and trial coverage, is not necessarily reflective of the full evidence presented to a jury. Nevertheless, the video of Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck was so shocking, so inhumane, it seemed unimaginable that a jury could see anything other than an entitled officer’s utter contempt for Floyd’s existence.

And yet, as we all know, in so many previous cases the justice system has excused police behaviors that led to the death of Black and brown Americans. In case after case, judges and juries have given police officers an expansive benefit of the doubt–even when, to the observer, there would seem to be very little doubt from which to benefit. Most cases, of course, lack the impact of a 9 and a half minute videotape. There may be witnesses, there may be allegations–but its hard to overstate the impact of visual evidence.

It also bears noting that the video in this case followed several years of other videos, most less horrific, but nonetheless capturing reprehensible behaviors of which most White Americans had been unaware–and doing so with an immediacy that verbal testimony cannot provide.

When the verdict was read, those of us who have followed the trial and worried about the aftermath let out a collective sigh of relief. But that sigh was followed almost immediately by a realization that the battle against systemic racism in–law enforcement and elsewhere– has just begun. President Biden said it best: this could be a giant step forward, but there is no guarantee.

That said, this verdict does represent an inflection point. It was an immensely important signal that Black lives do matter, that although police are entitled to a lot of leeway, they are not entitled to act as judge, jury and executioner–that murder is murder even when the perpetrator wears a uniform and a badge.

I think it is possible–not certain, but possible–that America is finally facing up to the deeply entrenched racism that has stained, and continues to stain, our national history. The Trump Administration’s blatant bigotry, the emergence of “out and proud” White supremicists, and the appalling embrace of racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism by the GOP, all have made it impossible for Americans of good will to ignore the pervasive bias that distorts virtually every aspect of our common lives–not just the criminal justice system.

The verdict in the George Floyd/Derek Chauvin case was compelled by a mountain of evidence that the defense simply could not minimize or explain away. But there have been mountains of evidence before, and verdicts that ignored that evidence. The relief at this result–and the hope it kindles–is the possibility that it represents a turning point–that we may have arrived at a time when we are finally prepared as a nation to confront the deeply entrenched belief that some people are less human than others, and that their lives don’t matter.

As many observers have said, the verdict doesn’t represent justice. Justice would be George Floyd alive. But it does represent accountability, and that’s the next best thing.

26 thoughts on “How Do You Spell Relief?

  1. bout time. ever had your head smacked into the roof,of your car while the sheriffs have ya pulled over and had ya standing outside of your vehicle with your hands on the roof..because i was talking with my buddy who is beside me,he slammed my head down on the roof,then,told me i wasn’t allowed to talk..i was pulled over for cruising foothill blvd in tugunga calif..in 1972. by the l.a. sheriffs,6 of them..i’m straight,in the navy and driving a volkswagen bug. this was a few blocks where Rodney King got his ass beat.. nope,nothing to get pulled over for,or treated like i was..just a buncha cops having a nice round on the public..they us both go,after we produced our gov i.d. guess that was our get outta jail card..but it never ended. i lived in calif all thru the 70s,and even as a white boy,with long hair,no record,no reason,i was always employed and didn’t hang with the bangers..it never ended..it was the neighborhood,the one i could afford..

  2. The factual evidence from the cell phone footage may be the reason for justice – finally.
    If you see something FILM it!
    And now write all your state and nationally elected officials.

  3. Racism isn’t new, it being filmed!

    I am married to a man of color. He dismisses me when I say I’m worried about moving back to the states because of that. I told him that he needs to check the mirror because I see brown skin even if he doesn’t. He can wave off my concerns but as we just watched the news report of this case this morning and what the police reported from George Floyd’s arrest, he had a light bulb moment. He couldn’t believe that the police lied about it. They lied through their teeth and maybe he will see my concern in another light.

    I hope that when we move back, these death sentences for arrests will be rare. But you all know I’m a dreamer and we may never come back because I just don’t trust the police anymore. I worry that they will shoot first !

  4. The City settled with Floyd’s family before the actual criminal case. As for deterrence to prevent racist cops from doing the same — good luck.

    Now, let’s suppose that the $21 million civil lawsuit came out of the Minneapolis Police Department’s budget, so all the cops will be taking a cut in pay or a reduction of their pension benefit.

    Then, you might see the police start holding each other accountable. That’s how cause and effect are supposed to work. However, if the taxpayers bear the negative consequences, it’s no big deal for the police departments.

    We need to spend more on crime prevention, but those soft costs are hard to study. The benefits aren’t easily measurable. There’s no profit in the prevention or teaching kids the skills they need to make better choices. Arrests and incarceration are a pipeline to profit for the county.

    After disbanding the abusive city/county drug task force for several years after corruption was revealed within the ranks all the way up to the prosecutor, our city/county is back at it again.

    I asked the sheriff how much the county spends on prevention or the demand for drugs, and he refused to answer—more money in overtime and equipment.

  5. I would like to see police get higher pay and more training. Any law suits should be paid in part by the police Association and the city.

  6. I watched a snippet of Laura Ingraham last night on her show “The Angle.” The topic was “The Big Lie.” Not the lie that Trump was cheated of his bid for reelection. No, the lie according to Laura was spoken by Kamala Harris and Joe Biden: that America is a racist society, and institutional racism exists.

  7. I hope Ben Crump travels the country to take these cases on. People don’t learn until you take their money, and once a few cities start handing over 27 million dollars, I think some learning will take place.

  8. I was very pleased by the verdict and somewhat surprised, but I’m sure we’ll make up for that at the next shooting. One thing that bothered me was that people were piling on the defense attorney for trying to make Floyd guilty of dying while in custody. I’m not a lawyer, but I understand our judicial system. The defense attorney was doing his JOB. He had a client who pled “not guilty”. In a case like this, if an attorney can get a deal that the client will agree to, he or she will do that. Failing that, the goal has to be to try to create doubt. I give the guy credit for not running as fast as he could for the exit, before the trial. He didn’t have much to work with in this trial.

    Watching live coverage was interesting. Seeing a judge clearly take pains not to make a ruling he thought might be overturned was fascinating. Talk about getting a short course in trial law, this was it.

  9. Next step…. write your US Senator to support the crime bill that includes restrictions on choke holds, no knock warrants and other measures used to oppress minorities. In particular, let your Republican Senators get an ear full about their appalling silence about the George Floyd murder.

  10. I’m as happy as the next “not a Klan member” can be, but I think people should be careful about all the political cartoon posts about how the jury decided black lives matter and that kind of thing. I mean, “wildly guilty person found guilty” who did his crime while being recorded and the crime set off world wide protests is a pretty low bar. I’m not sure anything has finally said black lives matter. I think perhaps we might have found the outer edge of what police can get away with, and it took a REALLY long time to find that edge.

    Like I said, happy as clam that d-bag is going to jail. But, what it took to send a wildly guilty police officer to jail is pretty concerning.

  11. Rachel Maddow showed us the “report” that the MPD filed for the “incident”. It called it a medical incident while in custody and that the man died at the hospital. If it weren’t for the video and the publicity, this crime too would have been washed away by the great blue wave.

    No, we shouldn’t defund the police. That’s pure idiocy. The policing philosophy must be changed along with addressing the poverty that creates crime pockets. Guns make everyone nervous, especially the police. Every day in every city, we read about some bad guy with a gun shooting at police. How are the police supposed to respond to that?

    Guns + poverty + frightened cops = a George Floyd event on a regular basis.

  12. I was not totally surprised to hear the verdict. I have to say the media has a habit of retraumatizing people just like they did with the 9/11 attacks. They stated how George Floyd was killed over and over again.

    I hate the way Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. I wonder how he got away with 22 complaints against him. The police departments need to monitor bad actors much more closely- preferably BEFORE they kill someone. And I believe that anyone who wants to join the police should have an MMPI II before being allowed to join the police force so they can weed out sociopaths and people with paranoia.

    I also wonder how many police officers have PTSD and keep it hidden. They do have a job I would never want.

    I won’t believe this is an inflection point until I see other bad actors being convicted. People wrongly believed that racism was ending when Obama was elected. It seems his presidency brought Trump and the white supremacists out into the open. I would rather see them in the open rather than hidden on the internet or engaging in covert militias.

    Ultimately if we want to heal our nation of racism, we will each need to look at our own internal biases and try to heal them.

  13. In case you missed it, a 16 year old Black girl in Ohio was shot dead by police 20 minutes after the verdict…for all you folks who think real change comes in an instant.

  14. Lester, your one letter to a GOP Senator can go unnoticed, but a couple thousand letters to that Senator will get noticed and set off alarms. And by the way, from my experience working in the government, it was the hand written letters that sent off the most alarms.

  15. “The chances of a GOP senator paying attention to a letter?” I sign petitions, and send letters to my Florida officials, knowing full well that they will never pay attention to them, but just to let them know that there are people out here, like me/us.
    Wayne, thanks for the extra bit of their “reality.”
    “Dems Push Police Reform After Chauvin Verdict,” read the line on FauxNews, seen at the gym, this morning. I did not bother to see what the speakers were saying, but they dragged Ben Carson out of the mothballs, to say that racial reform is just another form of racism. And these Faux viewers have no idea what gaslighting is.

  16. Real studies have shown that folks in Congress from heavily Red or Blue areas not only ignore messages from the “other side” but actively vote the other way.

    And, of course, there are the state legislatures that ignore/change the intent of voter referendums (see FL on giving felons who have served their time the right to vote).

    Wake up to reality…

  17. I remember, when I was still actively involved in the practice of law, occasionally going to the Carmel City Court to represent client on a traffic violation. You walk in and half the people waiting on their cases to be called were people of color.

    I talked to a manager of a Carmel Kentucky Fried Chicken which was located just north of the the Marion County-Hamilton County line. She said most of her employees are black and they were constantly being pulled over by the Carmel police after work. The police would go through the parking lot and run their plates.

    I talked to a couple employees of restaurants along Michigan Road, just over the line into Hamilton County. They would actually park their cars below 96th Street (in Marion County) and walk into Hamilton County. (I believe it is Carmel at that point although Zionsville city limits is very close to there.)

    I know it’s naïve on my part, but I had always thought white people knew that the criminal justice system doesn’t treat whites and blacks the same, especially when it comes to interactions with law enforcement. I still have trouble believing white people honestly believe otherwise.

  18. By the way, due to federalism I really don’t think Congress has the legal authority to pass a law mandating changes in local law enforcement practices. They would probably have to try to force those changes by tying the reforms to federal money. I just don’t think local law enforcement agencies get much federal money.

  19. “There is no hate without fear…. We hate what we fear, and, so, where hate is, fear is lurking:

    “Cyril Connolly literary critic and editor”

    So, you will never be able to litigate fear out of this society! Systemic and institutional racism is driven by systemic and institutional fear and cowardice!

    This decision by the courts will just exacerbate the fear and cowardice in so many of our fellow citizens. They will be more inclined and even more susceptible to the conspiracy theories and false narratives floated by those looking to glean some sort of power structure from that particular segment of our society which is fairly significant!

  20. Paul @ 11:59 am. I also observed the selective policing in Carmel. I worked up at north Meridian and 116 the street back in the last century. I live in Pike Township so I could take 465 to Meridian and go north to 116th street.

    At times 465 was all backed up and I would take 96th street east and go north through the gated communities. I noticed the people pulled over by Carmel police were people of color. Speeding Beamer’s and other high end pricey autos driven by white people seemed to have a pass.

  21. I do not see the Chauvin case changing much of anything. Without the 9 minute taping of Chauvin it would have been covered up.

    Our hopes have been so often in the past been dashed.

    I would agree with Vernon, “Guns + poverty + frightened cops = a George Floyd event on a regular basis”.

    Thanks to the NRA, firearms manufacturers and increasingly lax controls on firearms, the Police must live in constant fear when making a traffic violation stop, let alone some domestic dispute.

  22. “A turning point?”

    Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in this Country. As already noted above by Lester Levine, a 16 year old girl shot and killed by the police yesterday in Columbus, OH. And as for white racism, how about this from Arizona on Monday: https://www.yahoo.com/news/neo-nazi-leader-arrested-arizona-211607227.html

    But as another old “reformed” attorney, it is always reassuring when the justice system and a jury of fellow citizens gets one right! That’s always a good start.

  23. I hope this is a beginning–I do think juries who are looking at any potential wrong doing by cops should be anonymous; but I feel those who serve on a jury looking at any kind of wrong doing need to be anonymous for their own protection. I also feel there needs to be a 3rd party or a place where the ‘good cops’ can report those bad cops. I have friends and family members who are police officers and I have heard some stories and have had family members who have had to watch their backside from fellow officers because they spoke up.

    Pat Robertson and I can’t believe I am saying it had some valuable points–we need better screening and maybe better pay and better screening. Oh and maybe where the psychologist doing the screening doesn’t have issues and sleeping w/ some of the officers she is passing (one of the meaning true scenarios I am aware of)

    My husband told me that he was watching the news and heard how a black, female officer finally got her back pay and pension after losing both when she came upon a white officer choking a man he had down on the ground in handcuffs and she confronted him and got him off the handcuffed man. She was the one that was punished and had to sue to get her pension and eventually back pay. Pardon me if I am still skeptical and tepidly hopeful.

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