Why Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict Might Actually Lead To Meaningful Police Reform

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protestor holding sign about convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin

After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the killing George Floyd, many are hopeful his conviction will be a watershed moment in the fight for police accountability.

The moment the video of Floyd pinned under Chauvin’s knee went viral in May 2020 was a turning point in the history of the Black Lives Matter movement achieved international momentum, with calls for police reform reaching unprecedented volumes.

Systemic reform within the U.S. police and justice systems is long overdue and has been painfully slow to take hold.

Floyd’s death at the hands of police was not the first or last of its kind, nor is it the only time promises of police reform have been made and broken.

When Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, a White House panel was quickly assembled with the intention of building trust between law enforcement and citizen. Their efforts produced a list of 59 recommendations, with 92 corresponding action items, for police reform.

Unfortunately, implementation has been slow and any meaningful change as a result has been limited, as is the information available about how their work is being monitored and evaluated.

Then came the deaths of Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Stephon Clarke, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toldeo, Daunte Wright, Ma'Khia Bryant and far too many others before and since Floyd’s death.

The decaying trust in law enforcement and justice reform makes it difficult to be optimistic about any lasting impact Chauvin’s conviction may have, but the historic nature of this case must hold some weight — right?

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Change is occurring but more momentum is needed if we want Chauvin’s guilty verdict to mean anything on a wider scale.

Here’s why.

Derek Chauvin was on trial for the murder of George Floyd, not the police force — not the larger system.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor Steve Schleider told the jury, “To be clear, this case is called the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin, not the State of Minnesota vs. police.”

He also argued that Chauvin “betrayed his badge” by killing Floyd.

These statements reflect a broader theme that was in play throughout the trial — distancing Chauvin’s actions from American policing in general.

Of course, it has to be said that Chauvin is primarily responsible for Floyd’s death and there are countless other officers who would have made better choices in his position.

But we cannot ignore the reality that Chauvin is part of a large cohort of officers who are trained and paid to be violent.

The 18 previous complaints filed against Chauvin were mainly ignored by the Minneapolis Police Department's Internal Affairs, only two of which were "closed with discipline," meaning a letter of reprimand was issues. Such handling of citizens complaints only further legitimized his violence.

Chauvin is the one who did wrong, but perhaps he could have been warned, dealth with, or perhaps even removed from the force sooner.

Chauvin is only one of many who officers who have taken violence in the name of policing too far, but one of few who have been held accountable.

And make no mistake, he is a criminal who is being held accountable. This is not some great act of justice, Chauvin’s conviction was only due course.

He committed a murder. He was prosecuted. He was found guilty by a jury of his peers.

This is the reparation that should have been given in the cases of many other Black men and women whose lives were unjustly taken by police officers.

The conviction does not undo the death of George Floyd, nor does it right any of the wrongs that persist within policing in America.

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The “blue wall of silence” has finally been broken, but will it be rebuilt?

Chauvin’s trial penetrated what many call the “blue wall of silence,” a culture within law enforcement that supports police officers refusing to speak out against one of their own.

Minneapolis chief of police Medaria Arradondo acted quickly last May to have Chauvin and his colleagues removed from the force after seeing the video of Floyd begging for his life.

“Mr. George Floyd’s tragic death was not due to a lack of training — the training was there. Chauvin knew what he was doing," Chief Arradondo said in a statement released in June 2020. "This was murder — it wasn’t a lack of training. This is why I took swift action regarding the involved officers’ employment with MPD.”

His has been one of the most significant voices in the case against Chauvin, consistently condemning the former officer's actions as a breach of police policy.

What we don’t see in these testimonies is any interrogation of the policies themselves.

Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck too hard for too long, but no one testified that perhaps our police force shouldn’t be kneeling on necks at all.

The use of force that is authorized by police policy walks a fine line between moderate and excessive, so it is no wonder that cops like Chauvin take it too far on a regular basis.

Arrandondo’s choice to speak up could set a precedent for other officers to do the same.

That said, we all watched the video of Floyd’s death so it would have been impossible for the police force to feign ignorance. And it’s hard to imagine Chauvin’s conviction will suddenly stop all cops from covering for one another when their use of force goes too far, especially when their actions aren't caught on camera.

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Here's how things could actually improve in policing — and already have.

Despite Schleider’s assertions, it must be acknowledged that, on a symbolic level, America and the entire police force were not only trial but, perhaps, have also been found guilty.

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While Chauvin's trial itself was particularly revolutionary in regard to police accountability, it could potentially create an avenue for meaningful change and true police reform.

Slow as it might be, we are witnessing systemic change taking shape.

Most major cities made some kind of amendment to police policies in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

In Kentucky, the use of no-knock warrants was limited after the death of Breonna Taylor.

From mandatory body cameras to bans of chokeholds, police reform on this scale had not happened since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin.

Now, after Chauvin’s guilty verdict, more momentum has been put behind the George Floyd Justice Policing Act which has been stalled in the Senate since March.

The act would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases and reforms qualified immunity, making it easier for people to pursue claims against police officers in civil court.

No change happens overnight, but for minority communities, this is a matter of life and death.

Time is not always on their side.

On average, police officers kill three Americans per day, a statistic that has not changed hugely since people began tracking data on the matter tp;or calls for reform began.

Since the beginning of Chauvin’s trial, 64 people were killed by police, over half of them were Black or Latino.

The calls for justice for George Floyd will now move on to justice for Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and the other names and faces that don’t get picked up by the media.

But true justice only comes with preventing these deaths rather than avenging them after they happen.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.