Lessons from the Chauvin trial

4/8/2021, 6 p.m.
The murder trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd has offered us many …

The murder trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd has offered us many lessons, if we care to listen.

One chief lesson is that these egregious incidents of police abuse, brutality and even murder stamp individuals and communities with permanent scars and trauma that all the therapy available may never heal.

We feel deep empathy for the teenager who had the presence of mind to record the brutal last 9 minutes and 29 seconds of Mr. Floyd’s life, as well as for her 9-year-old cousin, the mixed-martial arts instructor and the EMT who must live with the nightmare they witnessed for the remainder of their lives.

The rest of us must question our own complicity in allowing such inhumanity and depravity to go unchecked and unabated in cities and towns across America.

George Floyd is just one victim of the out-of-control racism and white supremacy that permeates our policing and justice systems. There have been scores of other victims – named and unnamed – of police harassment, intimidation and brutality whose cases remain shrouded behind the police blue wall of silence and will never have a public hearing in a court of law.

The testimony so far in Mr. Chauvin’s murder trial clearly illuminates the imperative for profound and critical cultural changes within police departments that now hide and protect rotten cops like Derek Chauvin. Law enforcement agencies throughout Metro Richmond, Virginia and the nation must change their practices to initially screen job candidates for signs of psychological maladjustment, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, misogyny and sociopathic traits that can lead an officer to wantonly take a human being’s life like Mr. Floyd’s was taken.

Better and continuous screening must routinely take place for all who hold law enforcement positions. Such periodic and continual monitoring would help departments root out and remove dangerous cops who are a threat to the people of a community and poisonous to the standards and reputation police departments claim to strive to uphold.

We believe police reform legislation passed during the special session of the General Assembly and signed into law last fall by Gov. Ralph S. Northam is a good starting point for dealing with some of the police issues that have plagued Virginia’s communities.

Two of those measures empower localities to create civilian review boards to review and address citizens’ complaints about police misconduct and abuse. These laws also give the review board authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.

A task force currently is working to create such a board in Richmond. We believe that is a step in the right direction. We believe civilian review boards are paramount in ensuring transparency and accountability from those who are sworn to protect and serve us. And we renew our call for review boards to be created in jurisdictions around Richmond and throughout the state, including a civilian oversight panel for the State Police.

We hope the Richmond task force will not get bogged down under the weight of politics or process, as some people may try to thwart a civilian review board’s creation. The board’s authority must extend to a reasonable period retroactively in order to be an effective deterrent for abusive behavior in the future. Trust is built only when people feel their grievances are heard and not disallowed due to delay and/or the passage of time.

Once again we call on the national NAACP or other independent civil rights organizations to create and maintain a national database of police officers who resign, are disciplined, fired, sued or criminally charged for excessive use of force and aberrant behavior.

The Virginia General Assembly last year approved a bill that requires the state Department of Criminal Justice Services to create uniform standards for police training and conduct, and enables the department’s oversight board to de-certify officers who are found to have violated the standards and to create a database to prevent an officer who is de-certified by one department from working for another department.

While this action may help address some of the problems within Virginia, we believe a national database maintained by an independent, non-governmental organization would put police agencies and the public on notice so that bad cops can’t leave their jobs in one state, move elsewhere and wreak havoc on a community in a different state. No city or town should have officers like Derek Chauvin on their streets or in their schools.

In the past, we have called for law enforcement agencies to employ the “drop a dime” philosophy of crime prevention on themselves — to report a fellow officer whose actions cross the line, harming people and tarnishing the department’s reputation.

The testimony by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo gave law enforcement across the country a view of what leadership looks like when he testified that Derek Chauvin’s kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, who was laid out on the ground with his hands cuffed behind is back, violated department policy.

“(T)hat in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy,” Chief Arradondo told the court. “It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethnics or values.”

While Virginia hasn’t had a role model like Chief Arradondo, a Black man whose public actions show that police abuse will not be tolerated, one of Virginia’s new laws may help put the brakes on abusive policing. It requires officers to intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.

Will that be enough to prevent such an event in Virginia? We shall see.

We also hope that the new statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers will be effective in creating awareness of racism, curbing biased policing and profiling and improving de-escalation techniques.

The people of Richmond are serious about eliminating police brutality. But until top elected and appointed officials get serious and take action implementing policies and practices that will bring about positive change, our city and communities will continue to be plagued by ongoing issues of abusive policing.