Derek Chauvin may be a murderer, but he shouldn't be the face of American law enforcement

Jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is supposed to start tomorrow and Minneapolis is battening down for what may be stormy seas.

That process, which could take 3-4 weeks, may be delayed until the issue of a third-degree murder charge is resolved. Opening arguments are set for March 29.

You may remember Chauvin staring into a cell phone camera lens with callous indifference as he strangled the life out George Floyd back in May, 2020.

Chauvin’s a bad guy, but this isn’t really about him.

There are more than 800,000 sworn police officers in the United States working for some 18,000 city, county, state and federal agencies.

Derek Chauvin was just one of them.

At the time of the incident, Chauvin was under investigation for federal tax fraud. Two months later he was charged with under-reporting his 2014-2019 income by $464,433 and fraudulently avoiding sales tax on a $100,000 BMW.

Now we know a little more about Derek Chauvin.

We also know that the Minneapolis police training manual contains a section on the maximal restraint technique, which includes a knee-on-the-neck position similar to the one used by Chauvin.

Similar, but not exact.

The manual also cautions about the condition of the suspect and use of something called the recovery position. To be sure, Chauvin was miles outside the guidelines of the MPD training materials.

The defense will use whatever they can to muddy the water and introduce doubt. Whether or not that doubt is reasonable will be up to the jury.

I often write about the killing of unarmed Black people by armed police officers because our response to those incidents is so infuriating and so very, very predictable.

It’s like the thoughts-and-prayers response to school shootings, followed by lots of nothing.

The vast majority of law officers will never draw their weapons in the line of duty, much less discharge them or shoot anyone.

Real life law enforcement is not like what we see on TV, where Danny Reagan (Blue Bloods) gets to shoot a couple people in every episode.

Most often, when a cop shoots someone, it will be the first time that cop has ever fired his or her weapon at a human being. It’s not something they get to practice a lot.

That however, doesn’t explain how Chicago PD Officer Jason Van Dyke could pump 16 rounds into the prone body of 17-year old Laquan McDonald in October of 2014.

I think the point here is that we have to look at the facts in every case before retreating into our tribal responses.

One side says that cops are the ones under siege and that all shootings of unarmed Black people are justified. On its face, that argument is both implausible and specious.

The fact is that the 1920’s were the deadliest decade for law enforcement with over 2,500 police officers killed in the line of duty, almost all of them by White criminals.

In 2014, Eric Garner was strangled to death in Staten Island for selling illegal cigarettes. There was no split second decision by a single officer, but a protracted struggle between Garner and a half dozen New York City policemen.

Similarly, Derek Chauvin did not make a split second, life or death decision regarding his safety or the safety of others.

He made several decisions, over an agonizingly extended span of time, each one adding to the weight on George Floyd’s neck.

When the decision is made to use deadly force, police like to describe it as a judgement call. Too often, that judgement is not just bad, but criminal.

Every shooting of a Black person is not murder. Neither is every such shooting justified. The question is, how do we move closer to seeing those incidents through lenses that are less infused with our tribal bias?

I don’t have the answer, but the outcome of Chauvin’s trial, which we probably won’t see until late April or May, could be the first major challenge to President Biden’s pledge of social justice.

It remains to be seen whether or not our already weakened democracy will withstand the fallout.

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