Tuesday, April 20, 2021

We Can Breathe, Now

 (By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
Convicted murderer Derek Chauvin.
    To some, it might have a nice ring to it. Chauvin was just found guilty on all three counts of 2nd and 3rd degree murder as well as 2nd degree manslaughter in Hennepin County, Minnesota less than one hour ago at the start of this writing. But it shouldn't have a nice ring to it. The news that a former police officer has been found guilty by a jury of his peers of murdering a helpless black man should be greeted with grim satisfaction that justice, at least in this case, was served.
   The triple conviction of Derek Chauvin is utterly useless unless it is followed up with a systemic-wide overhaul of policing in America and it's difficult if not outright impossible to see a single murder conviction of a former police officer effecting that much change at a political level. At the very least, this should serve as an important legal precedent that puts law enforcement officers on notice that if they assault or murder African Americans without just cause, they, too, will suffer the same fate as Chauvin. Hopefully, considering the amount of press the trial had generated, it'll be catalytic on a level that the trials of Amber Guyger, Michael Slager and Jason Van Dyke had not provided.
    About the only real comfort we can derive from these four convictions is that they have all come within three years of each other. That would seem to suggest that change is coming, however glacially and incrementally. These recent convictions of former police officers for murdering unarmed African American men promise, however tentatively that in the tragic McDonald/Scott/Jean/Floyd era, there will be increased police accountability.
    American law enforcement does unquestionably have racist origins. In South Carolina, law enforcement, or what passed for it, started in 1703 and had but one remit- Capture fugitive slaves. If they run away, shoot them in the back (As was the case with Michael Slager, the South Carolina cop who did just that to Walter Scott then laughed about it afterwards, after planting evidence). The NYPD, founded on May 23, 1845, folded into its remit "blackbirding". Law enforcement in Gotham was allowed to capture black people, whether or not they were free, and sell them into slavery for a finder's fee.
    This is what passed for law enforcement in the early 18th and mid 19th centuries. But the mindset remains, as if a deactivated gene is passed down to latter-day policemen and still trying to activate like a dog circling three times before lying down to tamp down non-existent grass to better see non-existent enemies on the horizon. To many cops these days, when confronting a black person, it's always better to shoot or choke them out, then not ask questions later. Just to be safe.
    Meanwhile, justice has yet to come to the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castille (another Minnesota murder of an unarmed, compliant black man), Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and, most recently, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo.
      Many of those families will never receive it.

A Crap Shoot
Political leaders were swift in weighing in. President Obama said, "(I)f we're being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial." President Biden and Vice President Harris will offer their own commentary soon (Biden is widely expected to call for peace even though the scene outside the Hennepin County Courthouse is already peaceful and respectfully jubilant).
    The media, obviously, will feed on the conviction for the foreseeable future, with Joy Reid saying, as I already had, this ought to put officers on notice that this homicidal attitude toward black citizens will not be tolerated, any more. Donald Trump, presumably, is blaming the wind for landing him in the rough at the 11th hole at Mar a Lago. Greg Gutfeld, next to Trump, the world's worst comedian, said he was glad Chauvin was found guilty so his neighborhood wouldn't get looted. (Prompting gasps and admonitions from even Jeanine Pirro.)
     But the tragic aspect of the seemingly endless wait between the announcement that the jury had reached a verdict and its reading by Judge Cahill was the hope that the stars would align correctly, complete with rabbit's feet, four leaf clovers and horseshoes tossed in for good measure. In a case such as this, there's  a certain crap shoot element, that maybe the jury or a grand jury will toss snake eyes instead of a lucky seven.
     That uncertainty in the efficacy of the law shouldn't factor into the calculus yet it does. Cases are only as efficacious as the prosecutors who try them. After OJ Simpson, we can't be too sure of anything. And, as the cases of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice prove, even videotape evidence isn't good enough. In those cases, Daniel Pantaleo and Timothy Loehmann weren't even indicted by grand juries. And Pantoleo was captured on video choking Eric Garner to death by using a chokehold that had been outlawed by the NYPD in the early 90s and Loehmann shot and killed 12 year-old Rice literally two seconds after arriving.
   Those two cases alone proved even videotape shot by citizens isn't enough to convict beyond  reasonable doubt (In fact, the man who taped Garner's murder, Ramsey Orta, was himself arrested while Pantaleo was allowed to continue terrorizing Staten Island for five more years). Darren Wilson, the cop who'd shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, was allowed to retire and collected a cool half million dollars toward a legal defense fund that he never needed.
     There's hope that there's more than just change in the wind. It needs to be instituted at the policy and political levels and that begins with screening police applicants much more vigorously. It begins with individual attitudes toward black people and the actual role and function of law enforcement. And such a grassroots understanding of those attitudes is going to be difficult to grasp, as well as weeding out racist police cadets promised impunity by a plainly corrupt system that sees paranoid survival at all costs as its true remit.

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