Monday, April 05, 2021

The Chauvin Trial

      It's predictably a partisan lighting-rod: the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on charges of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

      I'm not going to comment on it directly; the trial is ongoing and we'll all know the decision of the jury in due course. 

      Indirectly--  Residents of the U. S. generally expect the police to deliver the people they arrest alive.  Yes, this is not always possible.  Very few people greet the prospect of their own arrest with happiness and a significant proportion of them resist with force.  To that end, police officers are equipped with a wide variety of tools, from pepper spray and handcuffs to radios (and backup), batons and firearms.  The expectation holds: it's the job of the police to get the immediate situation and suspects under control and deliver those they arrest to the justice system, largely intact.  We don't expect or want police to be judge, jury and executioner.  Dead suspects are a failure.

     Too, residents of the U. S. ought to be able to expect encounters with the justice system to be fair.  Not necessarily nice,* but impartial and reasonably safe.  To the extent an individual does not have that expectation, there has been a failure.

      A decent system of policing and justice should not require the police, prosecutors and judges to be saints, geniuses or heroes.  It ought to work sufficiently well and fairly enough even when public employees are tired, bored, hung-over, angry or a little stupid.  If it does not, that's a failure.

      Ideally, real-world policing and the courts should be about like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, only with guns (etc.) and attorneys: dull, frustrating, annoying, slow...and not unsafe. 

     So when people tell me, heatedly, that Derek Chauvin and/or George Floyd should have done something other than the actions that led to the death or Mr. Floyd and the disgrace of Officer Chauvin, I think yes; yes, you're right -- but they didn't.  The system failed.  Their expectations failed them. 

      And now it's in the hands of a jury.  Will we learn anything from it, or repeat last summer's pattern of protests (from well-meaning to scarily pissed off) and opportunistic riots?  Either way, one man is dead and another is ruined.

      Edited To Add: I'm getting comments mentioning other interactions between police and citizens with bad outcomes, plus suggestions that George Floyd was somehow more deserving of a bad outcome by dint of being on drugs at the time.  This is all beside the point: in our culture, it is generally expected that if the police arrest you, they will deliver you alive for the next part of your involvement with the criminal justice system.  When that doesn't happen, some or all of the participants in the process have screwed up -- and we do (and should) expect the police to be the "adults in the room" in these situations. 
* Night Court and Barney Miller notwithstanding, there's no way spending the night in a county lockup can be nice.

1 comment:

Pigpen51 said...

I see these kinds of things happen, usually on the television news programs, and immediately form an opinion in my mind of who was right and who was in the wrong. That I know is my own bias and not fair. Later, as more information comes out, I tend to change my thinking, but the fact is I am always wrong in my thinking.
This trial, is a perfect example of how it is meant to work out. Chauvin is at this point neither guilty or innocent of the things that he has been accused of. Only after a jury has heard all of the evidence, and had the chance to discuss it and consider the legal meaning of the actions taken, and they have returned a verdict, can we finally say that he was guilty or not. Innocent until proven guilty is so very important in America. And of course, the suspected criminal, Mr.Floyd, also had the same right to an assumption of innocence, as well. He can be arrested for suspicion of a crime, but the police are not juries and executioners.
Sadly, these things sometimes get mixed up, and covered with a mist of uncertainty.
It is important that we somehow learn to weed out bad police officers, before they have the chance to cause either a death of a suspect or even more distrust of police in general. Because while we know that most police officers are good, decent people who just want to do their jobs, and help their communities, having enough bad ones make the communities that they are meant to serve so afraid to deal with them, that you see calls for defunding the police, or straight out riots and burning police cars, etc. That doesn't make it right, of course, but when a police force must abandon it's station due to the danger from the community, you need someone to ask why, not just place blame.