The powerful trial and conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin for the sadistic murder of George Floyd brought much more than accountability to the nation on Tuesday, it brought certain change.
From May 25, 2020, when Minneapolis police erroneously reported “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” the murder of Floyd has been a textbook illustration of police unaccountability.
That ended yesterday after unparalleled scrutiny and a three-week trial changed the expectation for police officers everywhere.
Here’s what Minneapolis police said just after Floyd’s murder, even knowing at the time the incident had gone deeply wrong.
“Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
The world knows exactly what happened to Floyd. And the world watched, in contrast to that company-line statement, as officer after officer from Chauvin’s police department gave testimony that just about everything Chauvin did was wrong. Tens of thousands of police officers across the country saw the end of the so-called “blue wall,” where police defend each other with their silence or tacit perjury.
Watching Chauvin cruelly crush the life from Floyd forever removed the benefit of the doubt that have kept racist, incompetent and outright criminal police officers on the force and out of jail for generations.
Last year, in response to the similarly sadistic death of Elijah McClain — wantonly killed by Aurora police and firefighters in August of 2019 — Colorado legislators profoundly changed state law. The changes ended statute that for decades was the ace card for cops accused of deadly malfeasance. Colorado, like most states, codified that virtually any violent or lethal action by police was justified by a cop simply saying they felt endangered at the time they clubbed or even shot someone. The law also made clear that officers who watch other officers act wrongly or illegally in the line of duty must intervene, and they must report dangerous and illegal behavior by fellow officers.
Watching a parade of Chauvin’s fellow officers and supervisors take the stand to help convict him underscored how officers can and must now behave. The expectation is they must police each other. In Colorado, that’s now the law.
In Aurora, where the entire department is being dissected after a string of horrific blunders, the Floyd trial provides a roadmap for reform efforts. Aurora is currently assembling reports from investigations, task forces and internal assessments about how to codify needed changes.
Preventing more abuses like those that killed Floyd, McClain and numerous others, Aurora, and all police departments must focus first on transparency. Trust and accountability can come only from independent oversight and information about incidents that come from an outside agency or entity.
Police cannot be the sole source of information about allegations of police wrongdoing.
After the relatively recent deaths of Black people like Floyd and McClain, the industry of policing has shown it cannot be trusted to accurately report to the public. With so many past incidents predictably excusing virtually any and all incidents where police have killed or maimed with impunity, change must come to the departments and the legal system that has repeatedly excused them.
Colorado and Aurora have made good starts, but there is much to be done to ensure the press and public have fast, unfettered access to police records and that oversight agencies have access to officers and evidence when allegations occur.
It doesn’t mean that the vast majority of officers and police departments aren’t staffed with skilled, honest and compassionate people. It means those honorable peacekeepers need and deserve police reform as much as the public they serve.
The Floyd trial was only the opening of a conversation Aurora and every police department in the country needs to have about not just changing the structure of departments and the behavior of officers, but how to ensure the public they’re getting the truth.