Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd could mark a “new era in police accountability,” according to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. The decision was both lauded and criticized by those in law enforcement, who see it either as a recognition that policing needs greater reform and accountability, or as a tool used for political gain.
According to CAPradio, Chauvin is just the second officer to be convicted in an on-duty death in Minnesota’s history. Following the verdict, California law enforcement sprang into action to celebrate the outcome.
Chief Abdul Pridgen, President of the California Police Chiefs Association, said “We appreciate the work of our judicial system and the deliverance of justice in this case. This incident, although tragic, has helped bring further attention to the ongoing need to improve and advance law enforcement practices and continue to build trust in our criminal justice system.”
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn says he felt “relieved” by the verdict. “I think the verdict is great for accountability, and it shows that Chauvin was held accountable for what he did to George Floyd,” Hahn said. “But I would be in agreement … that it’s just that, it held somebody accountable in one instance.”
Hahn said that there is more work to go to fix the underlying cause of the problem, which he believes is racism.
“Historically, we have had an issue with race and difference — and accountability is great. But until we start dealing with that in all sorts of matters, not just with law enforcement,” he said, “and [until] we start dealing with [our biases], until we know our history and how we got here, it’s going to be pretty hard to solve it.”
However, some in law enforcement believe the trial was overly politicized. The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, has resisted police reforms despite disavowing Chauvin last summer, according to an NPR report.
The union released a statement after the verdict thanking the jury before declaring “there are no winners in this case. We need the political pandering to stop and the race-baiting of elected officials to stop. In addition, we need to stop the divisive comments and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we all love,” the statement read.
Indeed, CBS News found an instance of “politicization” following the guilty verdict, when Rep. Karen Bass said “This is a very positive catalyst, picked up the momentum right after it passed on March, discussions started again,” referring to the impact of the trial on The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill she co-sponsored.
Regarding the trials’ politicization, Samuel Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, said the case may indeed have broader implications for policing. “I think the public’s focus on the related problems with policing is very widespread and deep. I think there will be a response and that mayors and governors will demand more policing reforms,” he said.
Walker noted that since the death of George Floyd, 84% of cities approved of at least some changes in local law enforcement policy within a four-month period.
According to Walker, the case marked one of the first instances in which a police chief and other commanders broke from the so-called “blue wall of silence” whereby officers have been hesitant to criticize other officers or bear witness against them in court.
“That command officers were willing to testify set an exceptional precedent. You cannot discount the significance of that and what it signals to other police chiefs.”
The verdict may also have a direct impact on legislation in the pipeline. Following the verdict, President Joe Biden called on congress to follow through on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers for misconduct by banning qualified immunity, would create a national registry to track officers and their histories, and seeks to ban racial and religious profiling among other provisions.
Lawmakers and agencies are looking back on The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that came as a result of 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson to see if they can work in some of those recommendations.
One recommendation of the task force is to rebuild trust between police and the community.
“Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian – rather than a warrior – mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public,” the task force concluded. “Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community.”
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