The trial and convictions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd mean different things to different people.
For me, the ordeal, the trial, and the verdict were about accountability.
The story did not start out that way. The initial statement by Minneapolis police nearly one year ago said Floyd’s death was the result of a “medical condition during police interaction.”
That generic description bore no resemblance to what really happened.
Fortunately, a 17-year-old bystander, Darnella Frazier, pulled out her phone and recorded what took place. The country, and more importantly the jury, saw on the nearly 10-minute long video Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd pleaded for his life.
It is reasonable to wonder whether Chauvin would have been held accountable had there not been an independent video.
But there was, and that turned out to be the most significant piece of evidence for the prosecution.
There is plenty of speculation now that the jurors were afraid to not convict Chauvin because they did not want to be responsible for triggering riots. That is unknown at this point.
However, after watching that video and hearing the Minneapolis police chief testify that Chauvin’s action “in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy,” what other conclusion could the jury reasonably reach?
So, the system worked. Chauvin was held accountable.
Accountability is an important concept, especially for individuals in positions of responsibility, and few professions in our society bear a greater responsibility that police officers. They maintain “the thin blue line” that separates order from chaos.
That position carries with it risk, as well as an obligation to stay within the boundaries of the law themselves. Police officers must have the benefit of the doubt, especially when making split-second life or death decisions, but they must also show restraint.
When a police officer crosses that line, as Chauvin did, there must be accountability, and that strengthens trust, which is vitally important in policing. So, one reasonable conclusion from the Chauvin trial is not that “all cops are bad,” but rather when a cop fails in his responsibility, they will be held accountable.
With police body cams and the proliferation of cell phone video, we are going to be witnesses to more and more confrontations between police and individuals.
Maybe we will learn more from them about how difficult and dangerous police work really is, and that would be helpful. Maybe we will all become armchair critics who endlessly second guess the police, and that will make an already difficult job even less desirable.
Hopefully, we will also get increased accountability, like we did in the case of George Floyd, and that will make policing better and the public safer.