Derek Chauvin’s trial underscores the need for police reform in America

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | The trial of Derek Chauvin sheds light on America’s failing criminal justice system.


Alyse Kaminski | Staff Columnist

“I can’t breathe.” The three words that have been in all our minds since the news of the murder of George Floyd broke last year. The weight those three words carry — it’s immense.

As Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, stands trial, and as each witness gives their testimony, I cannot help but think that Chauvin is guilty. But for me, it does not take this trial for me to have made up my mind. I watched the viral video. I saw the anger and hatred in Chauvin’s eyes as he killed Floyd. I saw how none of the other officers did anything to stop it. We all saw it. There is no denying we all watched the video of a murder that did not need to happen.

There is so much riding on the trial that we are watching: All of the protests that occurred last summer to advocate for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the hundreds who so needlessly died at the hands of a corrupt policing system.

As I check the coverage of the trial, I feel annoyed at what to me seems like needless details. I know it is important to present all of the evidence and facts of the case, but I am sick of hearing about what drugs may or may not have been in Floyd’s system. He was nonviolent. He was handcuffed and while handcuffed and pinned to the ground, he was certainly not a danger to Chauvin.

Floyd’s drug use and the fact that his murder could be justified because he was an addict unveils a bigger problem about how we view addiction. Whether or not George Floyd used drugs, he was a person. A person who got mixed up in bad things, but a person nonetheless.

I was relieved to hear that the Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arradondo, testified and said that Chauvin defied police protocols. Chief Arradondo said, “Clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive — and even motionless — to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is set by policy, is not part of our training and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.” It would have been sickening to hear that kneeling on someone’s neck was part of protocol.

Another positive about Arradondo’s testimony is how much it weakens any possibility of a defense from Chauvin’s team that Chauvin was just doing what police officers should do. Hopefully the jury is convinced of Chauvin’s guilt.

An interesting point about Chauvin’s defense was made on CNBC by contributor and civil rights lawyer David Henderson. While there is no doubt that Chauvin killed Floyd, there was an opportunity for the defense to make a larger statement about the systemic problems in policing. By making this defense, first, real change could be enacted, but second, it lessens the image of Chauvin being one bad apple. Instead, he would drag down all the other bad apples with him.

And let’s be crystal clear, there are bad apples and they are not as few and far between as people make them out to be. Policing in America is corrupt and part of an inherently racist system that dates back to the Fugitive Slave Laws. Policing in America is rooted in criminalizing Black people, but that’s another article in itself.

Even so, Derek Chauvin was certainly one of the bad apples. And he needs to be held accountable. Furthermore, if those who are part of the policing system want Americans, particularly Black Americans, to believe that they are not part of a racist system, and are actually here to make us all safer, then the racist murderers within it, like Chauvin, need to go to prison.