Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Last week, a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts — manslaughter, and second- and third-degree murder — for the killing of George Floyd. But Derek Chauvin is just one of many police officers who have cruelly or recklessly killed Black people while in uniform. He should not be the only one brought to justice.
Derek Chauvin’s choices led him to the place he sits today, in a lonely jail cell, hopefully thinking about what he did wrong, the life he took, and the lives he changed on May 25, 2020. But the conviction of Derek Chauvin is not justice for all of the Black people who were killed by police. We are not there yet — not even close.
Remember that Derek Chauvin did not act alone on May 25. The nine minutes and 29 seconds he spent with his knee on George Floyd’s neck were made possible by the participation, and the complicity, of the other officers on the scene. Legal analyst Danny Cevallos told NBC News of Chauvin’s conviction: “It shows the strength of the prosecution’s case against a jury of his peers beyond a reasonable doubt. All in all, it’s bad news for the other co-defendants.”
Let’s reverse the scenario: if a Black man were convicted of murdering a white man, in the presence of three other men who stood guard and watched — would the other three be held blameless? I think not. Justice doesn’t mean choosing one of the officers from the pack of four or five to hold accountable, to arrest and convict.
Every officer whose gun fatally shot an unarmed Black person should be charged with murder. Every officer who stood by and did not intervene should be charged and convicted too.
Derek Chauvin’s choices were not the ones that killed Breonna Taylor. His choices were not the ones that killed Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Daniel Prude, Sandra Bland, Daunte Wright, Marvin Scott, Patrick Warren, Casey Goodson Jr., Ma’Khia Bryant… and the list of Black lives taken too soon just keeps going. These lives were taken by other cops, cops who should have turned in their badges long before the deaths they caused.
Each police officer needs to be held accountable for the lives they took. Holding someone accountable does not mean shifting them to a different beat or a different precinct, or reassigning them to desk duty. There must be criminal consequences for homicidal violence.
Every time a Black person is killed by police, hashtags like #SayHerName and #icantbreathe or #justicefor (fill in the blank) start making the rounds on social media. This can help raise awareness, but these hashtags cannot be the only form of “training” the police officers receive. They can’t be the only wake-up call sheriffs and police chiefs recognize before taking a stand against racism and bad cops. They see the messages. They watch the news. They know what is at stake if they choose to let their racist beliefs or their fear guide their gun. In other words, racist officers who kill unarmed Black people know what they are doing.
What we have is a pattern of police brutality and murder in our society. Our systems of justice are unequal. They fracture families and take Black and Brown lives. In a NPR Morning Edition report, reporter Cheryl Thompson notes, “Since 2015, police officers have fatally shot at least 135 unarmed Black men and women nationwide, an NPR investigation has found. NPR reviewed police, court and other records to examine the details of the cases. At least 75% of the officers were white.” The conviction of Derek Chauvin cannot be a blanket conviction, one that makes an example out of him, out of the murder of George Floyd. His arrest and conviction does not make it okay that other officers are walking freely.
When police officers respond to a call, I understand that they face serious dangers. The moment they step out of the car, they are potentially putting themselves in harm’s way. I understand they experience fear. I get it. But in so many of these cases, it seems like using deadly force was not a last resort. It looks more like it was their first resort — or their only resort. In so many of these cases it seems clear that the officer could have neutralized the threat with a warning shot, or a shot in the arm or the leg to disarm the suspect — or (imagine this) no shots at all. Some say the cops on the street aren’t to blame, it’s the way they are trained. Then the training needs to change.
I value and love our police officers. The majority of them (I think, I believe, I hope) are out there putting their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities. But when we witness so many of them endangering the lives they’re supposed to protect, then change needs to come. It’s not enough to single out one of them and call him a bad apple. They need to be held accountable — by their bosses, their departments, by the law and the criminal justice system — so we can get police departments out of the shithole these racist officers put them in. That happens by retraining police, creating a culture of compassion and understanding, allowing officers to be a part of the community instead of a barrier to justice.