April 20, 2021

An Immediate Reaction to the Chauvin Verdicts

 When I learned that the Chauvin jury had reached a verdict that was about to be announced, I turned my television to MSNBC. I listened to about an hour of commentary, with none of the speakers predicting what the verdicts would be. Someone noted that a quick verdict—the jury deliberated for about 11 hours—usually favors the defense.

My own expectation—certainly my hope—was that one or more of the verdicts would be guilty. Although it formally is the job of the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty, this trial was unusual. Because the whole country had seen videos of the police incident that was the subject of this trial, the commonsense conclusion had to be that Derek Chauvin caused the death of George Floyd. Despite its formal task to provoke reasonable doubt, the defense, in practice, had an uphill climb. The eyes and ears of most people led them to believe that Chauvin was guilty.

I am relieved by the verdicts, which are certainly the verdicts I would have subscribed to were I on the jury. On the other hand, conviction of white police officers on murder charges, particularly when the victim is back, is rare. In this case, the evidence for conviction was overwhelming and transparent. Not guilty verdicts would surely have been unjust, but, given the judicial history of the United States, not completely surprising.

We can hope that this trial represents a turning point. It was a trial in which police testified against police and one in which justice was serviced. It remains to be seen whether the next police killing whose trial involves less evidence and police testimony will also serve justice.

Today’s verdicts are no consolation for George Floyd, of course. We can but hope that his murder will inspire more justice to be served in future trials of errant cops. That would, perhaps, be a compensatory legacy. 

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