Derek Chauvin is guilty. What about the system that created him?
How many bad apples need to fall before we start to question the tree?
On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. It took 9 minutes and 29 seconds of agonizing video—Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times—to secure the verdict. Chauvin’s disregard for Floyd’s life was so heinous, so barbaric that it was impossible to deny.
It takes a particular kind of dehumanization to kill someone like that. Even then, the outcome of the trial was never certain. Consider the odds that the prosecutors were up against: Police murder over 1000 people a year. The victims are disproportionately likely to be Black. Only 1-2% of the killers are ever prosecuted. And since 2005 only seven have ever been convicted.
Just a few minutes before Judge Peter A. Cahill read out the historic verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin, shots rang out of a policeman’s gun in Columbus, Ohio. Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black child, was killed.
According to her family, Ma’Khia Bryant called the police after she was threatened by a group of teens. In self-defense, she wielded a knife. Rather than de-escalate the fight, the responding officer shot her four times.
Columbus officials are already trying to spin the story. With unprecedented speed, they released body cam footage they claim should exonerate the officer. It shows Ma’Khia with a knife. It’s devastating that this bears repeating so soon after the release of footage showing Adam Toledo’s murder, but a weapon doesn’t excuse police from killing a child. It also raises a question: since when did breaking up a fight between teen girls—knife or no knife—require four gunshots?
This was Columbus’s interim police chief after the murder: "This is a tragic incident for all involved, but especially for the family of the female.” Not the girl. Not even the young woman. The female. People don’t usually refer to other people that way. Unless they don’t see them as human at all.
All of this should remind us that Derek Chauvin wasn’t a bad apple. He was the logical fruit of a corrupted tree.
Because of the work of activists and organizers in the wake of Floyd’s murder, America has started to look differently upon America’s law enforcement enterprise. But the fact that Chauvin’s verdict is the high-water mark for accountability following police murder should remind us that we have yet to achieve any true justice.
In that respect, the Chauvin verdict cannot be the end of America’s reckoning with systemic racism and police brutality—it must be the beginning. Derek Chauvin was found guilty for his murder of George Floyd. But are we, as a country, willing to prosecute the criminal legal system that recruited him, trained him, and taught him to dehumanize? Until then, we are mistaking holding one man accountable for bringing a whole system to justice.
I think it starts with the schooling and training of police officer recruits in whatever police academy they attend. That's where the changes need to be made.
I worked with a young man in the medical profession once and he made the decision he wanted to become a police officer. As he still held his job part time while he attended the police academy I was able to observe changes in his personality and demeanor over time. By the time he graduated from the academy he had changed from the personable congenial co-worker into a sharp worded hard power player with a sense of superior authoritative attitude. Instead of serve and protect it seemed his mission had become demand and obey.
It can only be surmised that these changes in him came about due to his schooling and training at the academy because he certainly didn't come from a family or personal background that would warrant such harsh changes in him.
So, as stated, I strongly feel that there need to be changes made in police officers training starting at the very begining of their schooling. With continuing mandatory education & training perhaps every 6 months along with a sit down evaluation and job performance review yearly. Also, with continued complaints against a police officer, or 3 strikes, their off the force. As with most every other business an employee with this type of record is terminated.
Just some thoughts.
A police officer can take your life. A doctor can take your life.
In order to recruit the best and the brightest we need to start at the very beginning, the recruitment and the pay. Who gets to be a police officer? This should be a lifelong job, filled with training and retraining on new findings as the science develops.
I worked as an organizer in Baltimore for 25 years. I often saw the police officer that walked a beat carrying a big stick, no gun. He was experienced, over 40. He knew everyone and everyone knew him: apartment dwellers, shop owners, homeowners, vendors, ect. He was there to serve and protect. Likewise we still had "Hokie Carts" in Baltimore in the 1990's! Along the state roads, those corridors that look like spokes in a wheel, eminating from the downtown center.
These folks swept away the trash that accumulated on sidewalks and kept it from blocking storm drains that lead to increased flooding. They were union and got job security with pay raises.
When these people were gone, crime and drugs skyrocketed.