I’m not spiking the football of racial justice quite yet.
Yes, the second-degree-murder guilty verdict in the George Floyd case was encouraging and a relief. Ex-cop Derek Chauvin will be locked up in prison for a decade or two. There was accountability. There were no riots. And the result was a lot more just than what the case of Eric Garner, the origin of the “I can’t breathe” idiom, wrought.
The George Floyd case, however, was a perfect storm for conviction.
Chauvin had a checkered record with retrospective red flags. He didn’t testify, as was his legal and strategic right, at the trial, which resulted in an arched brow, masked appearance that precluded attempts to humanize him. The crime occurred in broad daylight, with more than a dozen bystander eyewitnesses, both white and black. There was a galvanizing, incriminating video that showed the brutal indifference to a black life manifested by Chauvin for nine and half minutes. It also showed that—as opposed to most accusations of excessive police force—there was no officer perception of a “threat.” And then there was the testimony for the prosecution by the Minneapolis police chief and other law enforcement officers that Chauvin used excessive force and went against training. It’s rare they testify against their own. When they do, you know it’s about a bad cop. So much for the “Blue Wall of Silence.”
But most cases aren’t like this. Going forward, the best case, post-Chauvin scenario is that prosecutors and police have now sent a strong societal message about police conduct and accountability to prompt systemic change in how police are recruited, trained and ultimately held accountable. Not only can’t cops kneel on a vulnerable suspect’s neck until he stops breathing, they can’t be so flummoxed by a traffic stop that they can’t even tell a Taser from a service revolver.