This week we watched as a Minnesota judge read the guilty verdicts for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last year. Hours before the outcome of the trial was known, President Joe Biden said he was praying for the “right verdict.” He wasn’t alone. An entire nation, and certainly the residents of Minneapolis, sensed the unrest that would pour out if jurors concluded that Americans could not trust their eyes – that the excruciating video of Floyd’s final minutes was not what it appeared to be.
Chauvin is white. Floyd was Black, and his death sparked new Black Lives Matter protests around the world.
Nearly 31 years ago, on April 29, 1992, a jury found four Los Angeles Police Department Officers not guilty of beating another Black man, Rodney King. Again, there was video evidence that most Americans could see for themselves. King was on parole for robbery and had led police on a high-speed chase before they stopped him and ordered him out of the car. Then, LAPD officers kicked him repeatedly and beat him with batons and zapped him with stun guns. The beating reportedly continued for 15 minutes, leaving King with a fractured skull, broken bones and permanent brain damage. When a jury found the officers “not guilty” of excessive force, rioting erupted.
Before and since George Floyd’s death, Black people have died at the hands of police officers throughout the nation. In 2019, a bill called the Police Training and Independent Review Act was introduced in Congress, “To provide for grants for States that require sensitivity training for law enforcement officers of that State and to incentivize States to enact laws requiring the independent investigation and prosecution of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.” The bill died in Congress. In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) again asked for Congress to pass this police reform bill.
Several states have passed or are considering police reform bills. Some of these require more training, including mental health training and realistic de-escalation instruction. Some require more transparency and some ban things like using tear gas and chokeholds in many cases.
The guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin should not signal an end to public awareness and our insistence for reform. The public must continue to demand high accountability and better laws.
Accountability bills are not an attack on police, but a recognition of the high standards that we expect our officers to meet. In fact, we must all hold ourselves accountable. Even if we don’t carry weapons, many of us hold some authority which, if wielded unfairly, can deprive those who are different from us of an equal opportunity in their pursuit of happiness. The reform that is needed may be closer than we think.