aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Comments on the Derek Chauvin trial

So, Officer Chauvin has been convicted on all three counts (manslaughter, 3rd degree murder, 2nd degree murder) in the death of George Floyd. Some of my acquaintances are cackling like so many Mesdames Defarges, which I think is kind of creepy. So many people see a larger narrative in this, but they can't agree on what the narrative is.

For many, the killing of George Floyd was about more than George Floyd. It was an example of systemic racism, which they believe infests the United States. This causes them to overlook Floyd's behavior in the drama -- his violent resistance to a lawful arrest, his ingesting a powerful load of drugs which made him even harder to restrain, his previous experience at faking an emergency when detained. This is not to excuse the police behavior in response, mind you, but making of Floyd just "another Black victim" overlooks the fact that he was an individual with his own agency. He didn't deserve to die in that altercation, but neither is he an empty symbol to be made into a poster child for anybody's cause. At the same time, trying to assign to Derek Chauvin and the other cops racist motives is something put on them, not apparently something they themselves exhibited at the time (no attempt was made to prove racial animus at the trial).

Others carp that the way to avoid dying in police custody is to do what the police say and not make things difficult. This is generally true, but not particularly helpful. Making all cops heroes (until proven to be one of the few supposed bad apples) commits the same error as making all Black persons who die in confrontations with the police innocent victims (without even investigating the facts).

Meanwhile, David French -- who served with the JAG corps in Iraq -- pointed out some time ago that armed military policing dangerous neighborhoods in Iraq had to make split-second decisions with deadly consequences on a regular basis. There were very few cases in which their judgment proved catastrophic, either for themselves or the civilians, and even fewer cases in which their judgment could be said to have been affected by any sort of prejudice toward Arabs, Muslims, or whatever. And they didn't even know the local language. French says we have a problem with police training in this country. They should -- and could -- be trained and held to the standard of our military, but for some reason, we don't do that.

Finally, Kevin D. Williamson points out every now and then that the vast majority of these confrontations, police problems, and riots take place in cities which have been under Democratic Party rule for decades. Maybe what we have is not just a race problem or a social problem or a training problem, but a political problem which could be improved by a change in governance.

Beyond the larger narrative -- whatever it is -- the actual trial is only the opening phase of this particular drama. There is at least some possibility that the result may be overturned on appeal. That wouldn't clear Chauvin, but it would give him a new trial. Some of the grounds for saying that the trial was unfair include: the judge's refusal to grant a change of venue out of Hennepin County, where feelings were so high; the City of Minneapolis announcing a massive wrongful death settlement in the middle of jury selection; the judge refusing to sequester the jury when another police shooting occurred in a nearby community just as the trial was wrapping up; and the inflammatory comments of the execrable U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters at the same time. All this, combined with the rapidity with which guilty verdicts were returned on all charges, without the jury asking so much as a single question of the court or seeking to review any of the evidence in a long, complicated trial, certainly gives the impression of pressure on the jury. At the same time, one of the more serious charges was allowed to proceed, even though the trial judge initially thought it inappropriate. Another case is making its way through the court of appeals, and that charge may be invalidated regardless.

In the end, I think Chauvin will be locked up for quite some time, and justifiably so, but I think we would all be better off if we let each criminal trial be about the people concerned, and not be in a hurry to use the people in the story to score larger points to advance some other narrative we care about. The time for that is for when the case is in the rear-view mirror and passions have cooled a bit.

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