Although the broad impact remains to be seen, verdict may represent an opening to needed police reform
This week’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin-George Floyd case represents a step forward in the quest to hold bad cops accountable for their actions considered criminally and civilly wrong.
But only time will tell if it is a big or small step forward. At this point, I’d say there’s a strong chance it will be back to business as normal as recent shootings before and after Chauvin’s trial has showed us. However it does put a dent in the Blue Wall of Silence that has hindered the prevention and eventual prosecution of many police brutality cases.
The term “Blue Wall of Silence” refers to how police officers refuse to hold fellow officers accountable for rogue – and often criminal – actions against civilians. It’s a mentality not only found in the ranks of police forces but is a hallmark of military institutions.
If you want to see a physical manifestation of the Blue Wall in action, watch how three officers stood by and shielded Chauvin from the crowd as he pressed the life out of Floyd.
Yet this verdict serves as a symbolic ‘victory’ for those who have pressed for police reform that seeks accountability for excessive force and legal relief from quick trigger cops. In much the same manner that the innocent verdict in the 1993 Rodney King case signaled that Black Lives Don’t Matter, this case could represent a sea change in how the criminal justice system will deal with bad officers. Some correctly point out that this case benefitted from copious cell phone camera footage that many other cases lack. Still, when given the full context of the case, the general public appears to support the convictions.
I use the word ‘victory’ with a sense of trepidation. As the young poet Amanda Gorman wrote, a real victory would mean that George Floyd was still alive and with us today.
If the Blue Wall is to ever be torn down, it will take good cops willing to call out bad cops and hold them accountable and responsible for those outcomes. But the chances of that happening anytime soon, is slim. Devotion to your fellow officer – even if it means overlooking discriminatory, racist and criminal policing actions – is literally drilled into you from Day 1 of the police academy.
There is a strong reason why police forces across the country resist the idea of Civilian Review Boards. A board untethered to law enforcement norms mean police brutality allegations would be reviewed by impartial third parties. And even if the board members are not completely impartial, then at least they would be outside of police force recriminations. If these civilian boards are adopted on a widespread basis, it would mark the beginning of the end for impunity for out of control officers. Law enforcement, its unions and rank and file officers know this.
Too bad it’s taken this long for it to become a viable option.
Jonathan Higuera is editor and publisher of ImpactoAZ.com. He is a native Arizonan and graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communications.