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At Last...Accountability

The highly anticipated verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin warranted the breaking news interruption in programming. After all, Americans had seen the video tape of Chauvin literally extinguishing the life out of George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 26 seconds last Memorial Day weekend.

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They took to the streets in global protests against police brutality and systemic racism. And while there have been past protests when mostly unarmed Black men are killed by police for minor infractions, this protest was different. It was global and came with a palpable sense of anger and outrage at the continued inequity and injustice in the police killings of Black citizens.

This was different. It’s been evident since last summer and it was made clear with the Chauvin verdict. In past police trials, the blue line stuck together and supported one another, verifying the official police account even when citizen witnesses contradicted those accounts.

Not this time. Something very unusual happened: police officials testified against Chauvin, something that rarely happens. Why? Because he was wrong and callously disregarded George Floyd’s humanity and his civil rights last May when he killed him.

What Made the Difference?

Some called yesterday’s verdict justice, but it wasn’t. Justice would have been having George Floyd alive and well today. But the verdict proved that it is possible, though rare, for police officers to be convicted of murder when they disproportionately kill Black citizens in cold blood.

Of the more than 300 Americans who have died at the hands of police officers this year, 28 percent have been Black, according to CBS News, though Blacks represent just 13 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, since 2017, 98 percent of police shootings of citizens have not resulted in charges for police officers. It almost never happens. One might ask why this outcome was different? There are three primary reasons: Darnella Frazier, Keith Ellison and good cops.

Darnella, then 17, had the presence of mind to take out her phone when she saw George Floyd being handcuffed and forced to the ground with Chauvin’s knee. She videotaped the entire episode, and it was her video that determined that Chauvin choked Mr. Floyd for 9 minutes and 26 seconds. Were it not for her persistence in continuing to record the episode, when the police asked her to stop, there would be only the word of the police, who initially said only that Mr. Floyd was injured during his attempted arrest. Darnella is a hero.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who represented the state in prosecuting this case, insisted from the start that there would be accountability. The officers involved, all four of them, were fired and Ellison, a Black man, assembled a team of legal and police officials who were driven to pursue this case so the officers involved would stand trial for their involvement in George Floyd’s killing. The three other officers involved will be tried in August and that may not have happened without Keith Ellison. He also is a hero.

Lastly, it was the testimony of some of the good cops on the Minneapolis Police Department as well as the dispatcher who took the 911 call, who ultimately sealed Chauvin’s fate. The police supervisor and other officers testified that they were not trained to choke citizens during arrests. The dispatcher also said she felt something was wrong and called a police supervisor to the scene. These people are heroes and affirmation that good cops must stand up and speak out when bad cops in their midst commit murder while being a uniformed police officer, sworn to protect and serve.

Accountability, Not Justice

Simply put, this verdict means that at last, there is a measure of accountability. It’s not justice at all because justice would be George Floyd still living and breathing.

But, Chauvin’s conviction shows that it is possible for bad cops to face consequences for slaughtering citizens in cold blood. Chauvin had the opportunity to let Mr. Floyd up while handcuffed and put him in a squad car to have him sent to be booked on charges.

Instead, he chose to kneel on his neck for more than 9 minutes, causing him to die. It was a willful act for which he should face punishment. And his conviction shows that at last, there is hope that accountability is possible, however unlikely.

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