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“ It is too early to know if this verdict is a flash in the pan or a radical change ”

By Christy Lopez

Christy Lopez is a professor of practice at Georgetown Law.

One aspect of the trial that was encouraging was the willingness of so many law enforcement officials to unequivocally declare that Derek Chauvin’s use of force was illegal and unnecessary. This was probably important enough that the jury returned the verdict it did, and it underscores the importance for law enforcement officers to do their own policing – not just to ensure that a officer is held responsible for wrongdoing after the fact, but also to prevent damage from occurring. in the first place.

Still, it’s too early to know if this verdict is a flash in the pan or a radical change. While this signals a new willingness for prosecutors to lay charges against agents and for jurors to convict, the criminal liability of an individual agent does not fundamentally change the trajectory of policing. This verdict is significant and important. But this should not make us lose sight of the fact that Chauvin was more a symptom of the current pathologies of the police than a cause.

We need to move beyond conceptualizing criminal prosecution as a solution to police misconduct. On the one hand, prosecutions against police officers usually only take place after someone has been badly injured or killed. We need to do a lot more to avoid police prejudice. This requires very different recruitment, training and accountability measures, but there is also a need to fundamentally rethink the police function. We have given the police an impossible task – a task that under-protects communities even if it causes unnecessary conflict. Not surprisingly, this is not going particularly well. No after-the-fact pursuit, however successful, will change that.

“ I wonder if justice in this country will always be synonymous with a prison cell ”

By Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, lawyer and memoirist. He is also director of the Million Book Project, an initiative of Yale Law School, where he holds a doctorate. candidate.

A friend of mine was once sentenced to life in prison for murder. My friend, then a 17 year old black boy, had murdered another black boy. Two decades later, I worked as a lawyer and had a hard time convincing a parole board to release him. But I knew the family of the dead black boy might believe that the trigger man’s freedom was an injustice. That for them, only life in a cell was equivalent to a responsibility. My opinion: two decades in prison were enough.

I shouldn’t think of my friend when I think of Derek Chauvin’s verdict. But Chauvin’s eyes remind me of those I have seen struck by the sudden knowledge that decades in a prison cell could await them. And so, when I wonder where the company is going from here, I really don’t have any answers. Chauvin is another man who goes to jail for destroying a life and ruining his. The verdict relieves me, I guess – but most of the time I think about the prison cells, what they can and can’t do. The men I know sentenced to die in prison for violence look more like me than Chauvin. The men I want to release from prison are all more like me than Chauvin.

If justice is a 40-year prison sentence for Chauvin, I wonder if justice in this country will always mean a prison cell. It is a disturbing thought. Because prison cells have never made this country safer. I will not make this verdict an occasion for me to pretend that the criminal justice system is fair and that the incarceration rates in this country do not concern me deeply. The verdict makes me want to imagine a different United States, where the undercurrent of so many lives is not violence. Because I know when death comes, we all tend to want jail. And, unfortunately, that may be all we can wish for, even though at night prisons do not make sleep easy.

“ This case is an outlier ”

By Philip M. Stinson

Philip M. Stinson is Professor of Criminal Justice at Bowling Green State University.

The criminal justice system worked with jurors returning guilty verdicts on all three counts. The verdict, however, probably doesn’t mean much when it comes to America’s long arc of accountability for their actions. This case is an outlier. Most cases of police brutality are not captured on video and most do not receive the level of media attention that the Derek Chauvin case has attracted.

I study police crime and police behavior. Roughly the same number of people are killed by police officers each year in this country, and roughly the same number of police officers are charged with murder or manslaughter each year. Less than 2 percent of police officers on duty who kill someone are already charged with a crime and held accountable in criminal courts. While justice has been served with the guilty verdicts against Chauvin, I fear this may not lead to meaningful law enforcement reforms.

There are over 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the country employing over 700,000 sworn officers. The Chauvin trial will do little to change the police culture in many of these law enforcement agencies. This is because many police officers are afraid of black men and black boys. Until we deal with this core value of the police subculture, it will be difficult to change police behavior.

‘There is still so much work to do’

By Jennifer Cobbina

Jennifer Cobbina is Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University and author of Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Why the Ferguson and Baltimore Protests Matter and How They Changed America.

Today we saw the responsibility for the actions of a police officer. We saw some form of accountability, which was necessary. However, we should not be mistaken that justice has been served. Justice would have been that George Floyd was not assassinated. Every day that black people worry about whether they will be the next George Floyd is another day without justice. Just a guilty verdict does not mean that the criminal justice system values ​​the lives of black people. It took overwhelming evidence with unimaginable images and witnesses to bring this case to justice and secure convictions.

Collectively, so many people were holding their breath as they awaited the verdict. The fact that so many of us knew what the verdict should be but were unsure of what it would actually be says a lot about the state of our nation. Police are rarely held to account. Hopefully this case will send a signal to everyone in the criminal justice system that the tide is changing.

There is still so much work to be done, which begins with recognizing that structural racism is ingrained in policing, and we must continue to fight for systemic policing change in America. We must end pretext roadside checks, end the use of fines and fees, end qualified immunity, restructure civilian payments for police misconduct, limit the power of police unions and speak out against the law. police.

‘Chasing rogue cops has a role to play, but it’s not enough’

By Walter Olson

Walter Olson is a senior researcher at the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute.

The police are not above the law. And yet, it is difficult to get juries to convict an officer. Social respect for work often tilts the result towards an acquittal when the facts are ambiguous. They weren’t ambiguous here, thanks to the video. “I feared for my safety” often works as a defense. Derek Chauvin couldn’t use it. Prosecutors and judges, regardless of their integrity, work their way through because they have to work with the cops every day.

The eyes of the world were fixed on this courtroom. Now the question is what will happen once the eyes of the world have moved.

Chasing rogue cops has a role to play, but it’s not enough. In much of the country, attempts to separate bad officers from the force are hampered by union power, reluctance to testify against other officers, and barriers to discipline such as the Laws on the “Bill of Rights for Officers. law enforcement officials ”that prevail in more than a dozen states. , including Minnesota.

What about civil lawsuits brought by surviving families against cities or individual agents? In all but the most egregious cases, these tend to be constrained by doctrines of “qualified immunity”, which often prevent police and other government officials from being held accountable for the wrongs they do. ‘they commit under cover of the law. These are rules set by judges, which are not in the Constitution, and it is only fitting that they are being redesigned across the country.

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