Posts Tagged ‘Garland’

35 Years and 9 1/2 Minutes to ‘Guilty’

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Derek Chauvin (left) and George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin (left) and George Floyd.

By Bob Gaydos

I exhaled with much of the rest of America — indeed, the world — last week when Judge Peter Cahill said simply and without any emotion, one word: “Guilty.” He said it twice more in reading the jury’s verdict and a tear slid down my cheek. Thank God. There won’t be any riots. They got it right. Finally, they got it right.

     All it took was a video showing 9 ½ minutes of George Floyd, a black man, being murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer. Nine-and-a-half minutes of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.“ Nine-and-a-half minutes and, in my personal experience, 35 years.

      Last year,when Floyd was killed, I wrote this: “I was writing editorials for The Times Herald-Record, the local paper, when Jimmy Lee Bruce, a 20-year-old black man, died in the back of a patrol car near Middletown on Dec. 13, 1986. He and a group of friends from Ellenville, N.Y., had gone to a movie theater in a mall outside Middletown. The group became rowdy. There was drinking involved. Two white, off-duty Middletown police officers, acting as security guards, escorted the group out of the theater. A scuffle ensued. An officer applied a chokehold to Bruce and tossed him in the back of a police car, which had brought two on-duty Town of Wallkill police officers to the scene.

       “The police then drove around for 7½ minutes looking for Bruce’s friends. When they returned to the theater, a state trooper, who had also arrived on the scene, shined a flashlight in the back of the patrol car and noticed the young man was not responding to the light. Police rushed him to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him failed.”

        I’ll cut to the chase. There was no video in the Bruce case. No recording of him saying he couldn’t breathe. No officers were even indicted in Bruce’s death, much less charged, tried and convicted, as was Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Accountability is a necessary first step to someday attaining justice. The opportunities for that keep coming.

        There were at least three police shootings of black persons in America within 24 hours of the Chauvin verdict. There was also the 24-hour racist drumbeat of Fox News and the white supremacist movement now known as the Republican Party, criticizing the verdict and claiming the jurors were frightened. But those voices are being somewhat muted today by those of the majority of Americans who are not only tired of the white cop kills black civilian and gets away with it scenario, but embarrassed and angry about it.

         That’s why the Chauvin verdict was so important. That’s why I held my breath and prayed. If the jury couldn’t return a guilty verdict in this case, I thought to myself, there was no hope for America.

          We got a break. The verdict in the Floyd case says there’s still hope for us. All we have to do is change pretty much everything about the way most police forces operate in this country today.

          Attorney General Merrick Garland got the ball rolling quickly, announcing that the U.S. Justice Department was launching an investigation of the operations of the Minneapolis Police Department, Garland will head the investigation himself. This crucial role of the federal government was abandoned by the Trump administration‘s useless attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr.

          What else needs to be done? Diversify police recruiting. Hire more women. Weed out racists in the ranks and reject applicants with sketchy records. Give recruits more training, including on how to talk to the public, how to de-escalate tense situations and especially on how to use force properly. Make it their duty to speak out about improper use of force by other officers. Ban the use of chokeholds. Get rid of that surplus military hardware. Stop dressing police like storm troopers. They are not an occupying army. Police have traditionally been part of the community. Encourage them to become involved in the community again. Act swiftly and surely to punish officers who abuse their position. Do not allow officers who are fired for misconduct to be hired by other police departments. Educate all officers on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly. Make the entire community part of this reconditioning process. Do what they do in my neck of the woods, Orange  County, N.Y.,, and send mental health professionals along with police when the situation warrants and have a crisis line dedicated specifically to deal with issues that do not necessarily require a police presence. Incorporate an updated and honest version of race issues in America in high school history classes. Elect public officials who are willing to say, publicly, that it is possible to want to punish bad cops and still respect those police officers who do their job honorably and, yes, often in the face of danger. 

           Much of that I wrote 35 years ago. The list has gotten longer as the list of victims has grown, including Eric Garner, a black man whose cries of “I can’t breathe” actually were recorded, to no avail. He died of an illegal chokehold applied by a white policeman on Staten Island in 2014. Garner was guilty of selling loose cigarettes. Somehow, despite the recording, justice was avoided. That’s why I awaited the verdict on George Floyd’s murder with such anxiety. The bigots in the Trump camp, all the Trump wannabes in the Republican Party will continue to stomp their feet and lie about some conspiracy or other in the face of any attempted police reforms. It’s all they ever do.

            The jury in Minneapolis got it right. Now it’s up to the rest of us to do the same so that, for one thing, future jurors in police homicide cases won’t have to be anonymous to protect their lives. Think about that. It would be nice if we could do it in my lifetime, but I don’t think I have another 35 years to wait.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is a writer/in-residence at zestoforange.com.