Guilty on all three counts? No one expected that! Justice! There was dancing in the streets! And there were no riots anywhere! And then the dust settled.
Wait a second. A guy committed a murder, in front of an array of witnesses, some of whom recorded every one of the ten minutes that it took to kill the victim. The evidence was overwhelming, but he was a cop, so he had the right to kill whomever he decided he should kill at that moment or at any other moment. No, he didn’t. His own police chief, among others, said so, under oath. The evidence really was overwhelming, so of course he was convicted on all the charges. That’s how it should be. The obvious bad guy is easily proven to be the bad guy and he’s off to jail.
That happens all the time. Or it should. So, what were people celebrating? That the nation did something quite logical and rather ordinary? The nation did something quite normal anywhere else?
That was it. The normal decent stuff is hard for us, at least when it comes to race. But we have our days. Eugene Robinson saw this:
It shouldn’t have been an open question whether a police officer could kneel on a man’s neck for more than nine minutes, snuffing out his life, with complete or even partial impunity. We shouldn’t have had to hold our collective breath from the moment it was announced there was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial to the moment that verdict was read. This shouldn’t feel so much like a victory.
But that is what it was:
The jurors in Chauvin’s trial trusted their eyes and ears. They saw the video of George Floyd pinned to the hard pavement, they heard him plead again and again that he couldn’t breathe, and they held Chauvin fully accountable…
The police officers who killed Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many other Black men either were acquitted of wrongdoing or never even charged. Chauvin’s conviction is a tremendous relief – and, one hopes, a beginning.
But not this time. This time, for once, the nation got surprisingly logical:
Perhaps the most important societal milestone marked in this trial is that the jury apparently gave no credence to the attempt by Chauvin’s defense to justify how he treated Floyd because of Floyd’s race. Defense attorney Eric Nelson didn’t mention race explicitly, of course. He used coded language that he hoped the jurors would understand. Floyd’s arrest took place in a “high crime” area, he said. The horrified onlookers who watched as Floyd died were a raucous “crowd” that needed to be controlled. The fact that the muscular Floyd was intoxicated gave him “superhuman” strength.
That is how Black men have been stigmatized for 400 years, as powerful and angry and criminal – and needing to be brought to heel, to be dominated if necessary.
As for Floyd’s “superhuman” strength, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for three or more minutes after Floyd was clearly quite dead. He might spring back to life at any moment. After all, Jesus returned for the dead. So did Gandalf. So did Harry Potter. Chauvin might have been worried.
The jury wasn’t buying that. Nonsense lost another round to reality. And there was joy in the land. The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr took notes:
Television news analysts responded with a shared sigh of relief after a Hennepin County jury found former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all three charges that he faced for the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“Justice has been served,” CNN anchor Don Lemon said after the verdict was read on Tuesday. His colleague Wolf Blitzer called it “a powerful moment in American history.”
Commenting on MSNBC, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said he fist-pumped when he heard the verdict. “I just had an enormous sense of relief,” he said. “And it happened at a time when it needed to happen.”
Even on Fox News, where many commentators hold a dim view of the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements that Floyd’s death has galvanized, the initial reaction was positive.
“Clearly, the verdict is supported by the facts,” said Jeanine Pirro, a former county judge who hosts one of the network’s top opinion shows. “Right now, what people need to understand is that the American justice system works. That people believe in Lady justice. That, if we give it a chance, it can work.”
But that was part of a larger argument that this fixed everything. The law took care of the one bad cop. There’s no need for police reform. And this was one guy. Why are these Black people so upset all the time? He’s gone. What more could they possibly want?
Ask the people in the streets:
The three-week-long trial had received widespread coverage across broadcast and cable news networks since it began on March 30, with reporters and analysts on the ground in downtown Minneapolis.
Video of Floyd’s death was so horrific, and the evidence and testimony against Chauvin so voluminous, that many feared an acquittal would result in a repeat of the widespread civil unrest that followed his murder.
“I was honestly scared,” a woman in the crowd told news cameras. “But we are the voice now. This is revolutionary. This is history. There’s not going to be a world where the cops don’t get arrested and held accountable for questionable actions.”
Summing up the sentiment of those he interviewed, CNN correspondent Miguel Marquez said, “This may not be the biggest step forward, but it is certainly a step forward for people here in Minneapolis.”
Perhaps so, but Fox News has other ideas. Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s media critic, covers that crowd:
After the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Fox News contributor and former congressman Trey Gowdy called the verdict “a celebration of our justice system.” Similar sentiments dominated coverage on the other major cable channels and beyond… And for good reason: The case rested on clear video evidence that Chauvin – who was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after more than 10 hours of jury deliberations – knelt on the neck of George Floyd for more than nine minutes last May.
Leave it to Fox News host Tucker Carlson to skip past the evidence in search of some way place an asterisk on this moment of racial justice. “The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: Please don’t hurt us,” said the host on Tuesday evening.
What? Just follow the logic:
Carlson was suggesting that a motivation behind the verdict was to head off the protests that would likely have erupted after an acquittal. “The jury spoke for many in this country,” continued Carlson. “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by the Black Lives Matter movement, that was never in doubt.”
A year of burning and looting and murder by the Black folks? That’s wildly exaggerated of course, but Carlson isn’t big on details:
The more Carlson strained to provide an alternative take on the Chauvin verdict, the more he stumbled. To shed light on the impact of the verdict on the police, he interviewed Ed Gavin, former New York City deputy sheriff and corrections officer. “Who’s going to become a cop going forward, do you think?” Carlson asked, clearly expecting a grievance about how people won’t enter the profession if their actions will be second-guessed.
But Gavin wasn’t having it. “Well, I think people will still become police officers. This really is a learning experience for everyone. Let’s face it, what we saw in that video was pure savagery,” said Gavin. Tension overtook the interview. When Gavin started to suggest reforms, Carlson cut him off: “How about enforce the law? Do we need to do that? So hold on, wait a second. So, wait, slow down. Do we enforce the law? Like let’s say, people are going through the windows in Macy’s and the cops are just standing there, do they resign?”
As Carlson was concluding the discussion, Gavin tried to get in one more point. “Nope, done,” scolded Carlson.
Carlson would tell his own story, as Wemple explains:
To viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” the George Floyd story is one of civil unrest, fires and broken windows. And when someone comes on air and dares to explain the atrocity, well – that person needs to be cut off and shut down. That’s because the truth of the Floyd murder threatens the fragile white-grievance ecosystem that Carlson has fashioned on Fox News’s airwaves. It speaks to the systemic racism that Carlson so commonly mocks. So desperate was Carlson to exonerate the system of Floyd’s death that he claimed that Floyd had died of a drug overdose.
The Chauvin jury repudiated that nonsense; no wonder Carlson doesn’t want to talk about it.
That really will get him nowhere. That was murder. But there are other ways to stop these people. The New York Times reports this:
Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters in public streets.
A Republican proposal in Indiana would bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office. A Minnesota bill would prohibit those convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance.
And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed sweeping legislation this week that toughened existing laws governing public disorder and created a harsh new level of infractions – a bill he’s called “the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
They’re with Tucker on all this:
The measures are part of a wave of new anti-protest legislation, sponsored and supported by Republicans, in the 11 months since Black Lives Matter protests swept the country following the death of George Floyd…
But while Democrats seized on Mr. Floyd’s death last May to highlight racism in policing and other forms of social injustice, Republicans responded to a summer of protests by proposing a raft of punitive new measures governing the right to lawfully assemble. G.O.P. lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session – more than twice as many proposals as in any other year, according to Elly Page, a senior legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks legislation limiting the right to protest.
Some, like Mr. DeSantis, are labeling them “anti-riot” bills, conflating the right to peaceful protest with the rioting and looting that sometimes resulted from such protests.
This is about keeping these people quiet:
The laws carry forward the hyperbolic message Republicans have been pushing in the 11 months since Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice swept the country: that Democrats are tolerant of violent and criminal actions from those who protest against racial injustice. And the legislation underscores the extent to which support for law enforcement personnel and opposition to protests have become part of the bedrock of G.O.P. orthodoxy and a likely pillar of the platform the party will take into next year’s midterms.
“This is consistent with the general trend of legislators’ responding to powerful and persuasive protests by seeking to silence them rather than engaging with the message of the protests,” said Vera Eidelman, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If anything, the lesson from the last year, and decades, is not that we need to give more tools to police and prosecutors, it’s that they abuse the tools they already have.”
And these new tools will silence the uppity folks:
Laws already exist to punish rioting, and civil rights advocates worry that the new bills violate rights of lawful assembly and free speech protected under the First Amendment. The overwhelming majority of last summer’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful – more than 96 percent involved no property damage or police injuries, according to the Washington Post, which also found that police officers or counterprotesters often instigated violence.
Most of the protests held across Florida last summer were also peaceful, though a few in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville produced some episodes of violence, including the burning of a police car and a sporting goods store. Still, as they embraced the bill that Mr. DeSantis signed into law, Republican leaders expressed scorn for cities that trim police budgets and tolerate protesters who disrupt business and traffic.
“We weren’t going to allow Florida to become Seattle,” said Chris Sprowls, a Republican who is the speaker of the Florida House, mentioning cities where protests lasted for months last year and demonstrators frequently clashed with the police. “We were not going to allow Florida to become Portland.”
That’s too bad. Those are nice places. Florida now is not nice:
The Florida law imposes harsher penalties for existing public disorder crimes, turning misdemeanor offenses into felonies, creating new felony offenses and preventing defendants from being released on bail until they have appeared before a judge. A survey conducted in January by Ryan D. Tyson, a Republican pollster, found broad support in the state for harsher penalties against protesters “who damage personal and business property or assault law enforcement.”
But the law goes farther. If a local government chooses to decrease its law enforcement budget – to “defund the police,” as Mr. DeSantis put it – the measure provides a new mechanism for a prosecutor or a city or county commissioner to appeal the reduction to the state.
The law also increases penalties for taking down monuments, including Confederate ones, making the offense a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It makes it easier for anyone who injures a protester, such as by driving into a crowd, to escape civil liability.
Now everyone can be Derek Chauvin. Kill those who piss you off, just use a car to do that, but it’s not just Florida:
In Oklahoma, Republican lawmakers last week sent legislation to Gov. Kevin Stitt that would criminalize the unlawful blocking of a public street and grant immunity to drivers who strike and injure protesters during a riot. Last June, a pickup truck carrying a horse trailer drove through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters on a Tulsa freeway, injuring several people and leaving one paralyzed. The driver, who said he had sped up because he feared for the safety of his family, was not charged.
The bill’s author, State Senator Rob Standridge, said the Tulsa incident had prompted him to seek immunity for drivers who strike protesters.
He was impressed. Others are not impressed:
While Republican lawmakers present the anti-protest legislation as support for the police, law enforcement agencies don’t necessarily back the new proposals.
The Iowa bills, part of a law enforcement package proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, would strip local governments of state funding if cities and counties defund their own law enforcement budgets – something that no Iowa jurisdiction has sought to do. And state lawmakers cut a proposal by Ms. Reynolds to track police-stop data by race.
The state’s police departments didn’t ask for new tools to crack down on protesters or grant immunity to drivers who strike protesters marching in streets, said Kellie Paschke, a lobbyist for the Iowa Peace Officers Association, an umbrella group for the police.
But perhaps the police do need something:
In Kentucky, where protests following the police killing of Breonna Taylor lasted for months last year, the State Senate passed a bill that would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer with “offensive or derisive” words or gestures that would have “a direct tendency to provoke a violent response.” The measure would have required that those arrested on such a charge be held in jail for at least 48 hours – a provision that does not automatically apply to those arrested on murder, rape or arson charges in Kentucky.
Though the legislation died in the statehouse over bipartisan concerns about free speech, the bill’s lead sponsor, State Senator Danny Carroll, a Republican who is a retired police officer, said he planned to refile it next session. Mr. Carroll said the bill was needed to ensure community safety and protect law enforcement personnel.
“They are under attack constantly,” he said, noting that police officers decades ago could “arrest someone for cussing them out,” until court rulings curtailed such police powers.
Watch your mouth! That’ll fix everything that’s wrong right now, or that’ll make things worse:
In the hours after Mr. DeSantis signed the Florida bill on Monday, as the nation awaited the Chauvin verdict, progressive community organizers in the state worried about how law enforcement agencies might react to any protests that resulted from the decision. Moné Holder, senior director of advocacy and programs for Florida Rising, a social justice organization, said her team had spent a lot of time informing activists of their rights under their new law.
“It’s a tactic to silence our voices,” she said.
After the verdict was announced, she remained concerned about how the police would deal with community members if they chose to gather outside, to be together after an emotional year.
Well, don’t dance in the streets when good things happen. You’ll end up in jail. Stay home, as quiet as a mouse, saying nothing.
That might fix things, or this might too:
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced on Wednesday a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, signaling that the Biden administration will seek to combat police abuses around the country and apply stricter federal oversight to local forces.
The Justice Department will examine whether the Minneapolis police routinely use excessive force or treat minorities unfairly. The inquiry will also scrutinize police training and accountability practices, among other issues. Mr. Garland’s announcement came a day after the conviction of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the murder last year of George Floyd, a Black man whose death spurred the largest racial justice protests in decades.
“Good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices,” Mr. Garland said in brief remarks delivered at the Justice Department. “Officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community and public safety requires public trust.”
That might actually fix things:
The Minneapolis police have long faced accusations of racism. Black residents are more likely to be pulled over, arrested or roughed up than white residents. Black people, who account for 20 percent of the city’s population, made up more than 60 percent of the victims in city police shootings from late 2009 through May 2019, police data shows.
The police force pledged to cooperate with the federal inquiry. “I look forward to sharing the great work done by our teams, day in and day out, with the Department of Justice and getting their feedback on how we can serve our communities even better,” Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement, adding that he had sought federal help in overhauling the department for three years.
It’s a plan:
President Biden had vowed as a candidate to fight excessive force by the police, and he called on lawmakers on Tuesday to resurrect the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a measure by Democrats aimed at curbing police misconduct and racial discrimination. Lawmakers in both parties said on Wednesday that they hoped Mr. Chauvin’s conviction could help revive the bill, which seeks to curtail qualified immunity for officers, ease the way for prosecutions and mandate more changes for departments.
It’s time to get back to normal:
The Justice Department inquiry is a return to robust federal oversight of local policing that had been a hallmark of the Obama era. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department largely stopped opening civil investigations into broad police misconduct, known as pattern-or-practice investigations.
Such inquiries sometimes end in consent decrees, court-approved deals between the department and local governments that create and enforce a road map for training and operational changes. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had curbed the use of consent decrees, calling them unfair to police departments.
Former Attorney General William P. Barr opposed opening an investigation into the Minneapolis police last summer, officials said at the time, saying that officers were struggling to keep control of a city hammered by protests.
That was pure bullshit:
Mr. Garland restored the Justice Department’s use of consent decrees last week and called pattern-or-practice investigations “an important tool of the Justice Department to ensure police accountability” in a recent interview with ABC News.
And there’s work to do, a backlog:
In the case of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy shot to death in 2014 by a Cleveland police officer, Justice Department officials opted not to seek an indictment of the officer, but did obtain a consent decree to overhaul the Cleveland Police Department.
Tamir’s family has asked Mr. Garland to reopen the inquiry into his death in light of a New York Times report that Trump-era officials stopped prosecutors from pursuing a false statements case against the officer.
And that’s what will happen:
Mr. Floyd’s death underscored longstanding allegations of racism against the Minneapolis police force that have been so serious and sustained that Chief Arradondo sued his own department earlier in his career. Black residents have often filed excessive force complaints against Minneapolis officers, including Mr. Chauvin, who pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground for more than nine minutes.
Officers already felt pressure because of the scrutiny from community members and elected leaders over the years, said Inspector Charles Adams of the Minneapolis Police Department. While a Justice Department investigation could be beneficial, he said, he also expressed concern that officers could be more reluctant to police proactively out of fear that an interaction could go wrong.
“Now that’s going to heighten it even more,” he said.
So be it:
If federal investigators find that the department has engaged in unlawful policing, Mr. Garland said, the Justice Department would issue a public report. It can also sue the department and enter into a settlement agreement or consent decree to help ensure that the department is overhauled.
The challenges in addressing systemic racial inequities “are deeply woven into our history,” Mr. Garland said, adding that it would take time and effort to build “trust between community and law enforcement.”
Why not start now? The dust settled. Guilty on all three counts was the obvious and rather logical verdict. Use it. Make things better.