A Hennepin County jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all counts relating to George Floyd’s death. But the lessons many seem to be taking away from this year of division and destruction are not ones that will result in safer streets and better police. Instead, responses to the verdict reinforce very dangerous lessons, indeed, with a focus on perceptions, regardless of whether they reflect truth.
The truth is that the nation was unified in the visceral response that the video of Floyd’s death generated. It was hard to watch for everyone, regardless of politics. But that unity was brief and nearly a year of deepening divisions culminated in the verdict yesterday. Now we move forward, uncertainly, in a very changed world. A criminal case that ends in a conviction should be the end of the story, but it is not the end of this one.
What did members of law enforcement learn from all of this? They didn’t learn that a police officer shouldn’t put his knee on a person’s neck for nine minutes—because none of them thought that was OK before.
Yet in Minneapolis, one officer did that, and he was found guilty for having done it. There is no lesson here for the other 800,000 officers in the United States. This trial was so high profile precisely because it was so unique.
What the other cops learned instead, from those burning down buildings to demand an end to being unfairly treated as a group, is that treating police officers unfairly as a group is totally acceptable. Given the circumstances surrounding this event and the trial, including the rhetoric of politicians at the highest levels of government, they also learned that the constitutional guarantee of an officer receiving a fair trial no longer exists.
What did the anti-police crowd learn from all of this? They got some of what they wanted. They demanded “justice”—but only on their terms, which sound an awful lot like vengeance. In their eyes, it worked.
Was the backdrop of burning cities , looted stores, violence, the promise of more violence, and a courthouse ringed in concrete barriers, razor wire, and the National Guard enough to influence a jury’s verdict? The anti-police Left celebrated it as such, and learned that this is how to get it done—in the same way that other dark elements in our nation’s history, such as the mafia and the klan, learned to parlay fear and violence into power.
We can expect this playbook to be used again going forward. Their quest for vengeance did not stop with Derek Chauvin, and this verdict will not satisfy the anti-police crowd for long.
Additionally, the Left used this incident to propose a wish list of anti-police legislation in the name of “reform” that did not include a single thing that would have changed the outcome for George Floyd.
Many of those not on the Left’s anti-cop bandwagon learned something different. Some of them will certainly question the legitimacy of the jury’s verdict under those circumstances. The media did its best to learn the identities of the jury, and with the doxing we are seeing all too often, there was legitimate reason for a juror to worry about the consequences of their decision at least as much as about the facts of the case before them. The fortified courthouse let jurors and their families know exactly how exposed they are at home or away from those security measures.
None of these lessons are good for anyone. If the process had been allowed to play out without all of the outside influences, then we all might have had faith that the justice system worked properly. A few years ago a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman. The officer was fired, charged, convicted, and sent to prison without a whole lot of fanfare. The system worked.
It worked in the same location that George Floyd’s death would be resolved. Instead of letting that system play out, in a system already proven to take responsible action in holding police accountable, we saw enough external distractions to create bad perceptions and bad lessons for everyone involved.
And now we have a very different case coming in the apparent accidental shooting of Duante Wright. This case presents real opportunities for learning and it highlights the need for more and better training for our police officers.
Let’s allow this one take its proper course and actually learn the right lessons—knowledge that can be used to prevent incidents like this in the future, without tainting the eventual outcome.