It’s worth remembering the Minneapolis Police Department’s bland description of the death of George Floyd after officers responded to a report of a suspected forgery involving an intoxicated man.
The police department announced the death — which the world now knows came after an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost 9½ minutes while he was lying down and handcuffed — in a news release headed, “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.”
The news release went on to say innocuously that Floyd “appeared to be in medical distress” and that officers called an ambulance.
It’s very possible, in other words, that what a jury found was a criminal act of murder in the second and third degree as well as manslaughter would never have been revealed for what it was: A shocking but all too familiar case of police brutality and excessive force involving a black man.
The Minneapolis jury’s verdict convicting former officer Derek Chauvin of all three counts was met with relief by a city, state and nation that has been anxiously awaiting the trial’s outcome. Floyd’s death in May 2020 sparked riots in the Twin Cities and cities all over the country.
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Widespread relief followed the verdict, but now attention will shift to the sentence Chauvin receives. There also can be no illusion that the problem of cops acting like thugs, especially when dealing with those of color, is a problem that has been solved in America’s cities.
During Chauvin’s three-week trial, more people of color died during encounters with police, including Daunte Wright, a young black man who was shot by a police officer in Brooklyn Center who said she’d meant to fire her taser. Shortly before the verdict, a 13-year-old black girl was fatally shot by police in Columbus, Ohio, responding to a report that she’d threatened other girls with a knife.
Police patrolling America’s streets are too quick to pull the trigger, no doubt partly because they fear they could themselves be shot if they hesitate in a nation flooded with guns. That’s especially true when officers are dealing with young Black men — even when they’re fleeing, afraid for their lives.
This reflexive overuse of deadly force must stop. Police should emphasize de-escalation and better training. If a misdemeanor suspect flees, what earthly justification is there for drawing a gun?
A day after the Chauvin guilty verdict, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it will investigate the Minneapolis Police Department to determine whether there is a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing” in its ranks.
Those investigations often result in court-approved agreements to force reforms, including changes in training and operations. That promises to help improve the thuggish culture of a department that has long been accused of excessive use of force.
But there’s no question that a sustained campaign will be required to keep the pressure on the nation’s police departments to prod them away from practices that have become too militarized and trigger happy.
Some worry with justification that massive protests will create pressure on juries to convict police officers to avoid riots. But those demonstrations are an understandable response to the disgraceful conduct of some police officers.
Does anyone believe that Chauvin would have been charged — and convicted — of murder if the crime hadn’t been captured on video by a bystander as Floyd pleaded for mercy while slowly suffocating?
We can’t allow this to go on. We must confront the institutional racism underlying this police misconduct. Let’s make George Floyd’s tragic death a turning point.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.