The Guilty verdict goes way beyond Derek Chauvin

Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of killing George Floyd in May last year. Millions have watched the streaming of Chauvin’s callous conduct resulting in the death of a fellow human being. “Guilty” was the only verdict  possible. 

But Derek Chavin is not the only guilty party here. In fact Chauvin is a symptom of a deeper malaise in American policing, judiciary and culture. 

Chauvin should never have been a police officer. His attitude at the time of George Floyd’s arrest and after suggests a man incapable of assessing himself and the consequences of his actions. Yet Chauvin was entrusted with leading the 3 new probationer officers who stood and witnessed George Floyd’s death. 

This is an indictment of American police culture. It is evidently a gung-ho confrontational mindset: it assumes the worst in every situation and so automatically takes the extreme countermeasure of drawing a weapon and being prepared to open fire. 

There have been a number of reports since Floyd’s killing almost a year ago in which unarmed individuals have been shot dead by police. Non whites are disproportionately represented among the victims.  For example, compare the percentage of unarmed blacks killed with the percentage of Afro-Americans in the general population. 

Police killings have continued despite the high profile trial of Derek Chauvin. You have to ask yourself, just how do American police officers view their role. Indeed, it is high time American police officers stopped and considered just how upholders of the law should uphold the law ! 

Now, no-one is suggestingt that police officers be hamstrung in doing their job, especially in the face of very hardened criminals – often armed. But both police mindset and police training need attention. When people charged with upholding the law can kill a person with apparent impunity, then something is clearly wrong.  This is not upholding the law – this is reckless transgression. 

Police need to be trained in what the rule of law means. It means the application of the law equally to all, regardless of a person’s identity or indeed their past. It means upholding the principle of innocent until proven guilty – and proven guilty in a court of law, not summarily prosecuted, judged and sentenced by the investigating or arresting officer.

Amercian police need to understand that they are

  • part of a process of law enforcement; they are not an end in itself
  • upholders of the culture and mindset of the rule of law
  • actors in making a free democratic society work for all
  • responsible for their attitudes and actions

All this, however, is not encouraged by the Judicial notion of “qualified immunity” asserted by the Supreme Court of the United States.  This doctrine and approach has evidently prevented police officers realising their responsibilities and the wider significance of their role. Time and again over the years it has allowed police officers to avoid confronting their own shortcomings and responsibilities. It has allowed officers to take the view that they are entitled to protect themselves, even at the cost of an innocent life.

Why have successive Presidents and Congresses of both political stripes over the decades refused to address this issue ?  Successive State governments and assemblies are guilty of failing to act.

Why ?

That is a question which must be addressed, and addressed with regard to the truth and the evidence, not according to prejudice and ideological predisposition. 

One answer may be to outlaw private ownership of weapons, or at least strictly supervise permits to hold a firearm as other western democracies do. The prevalence of guns in American society is an issue. But, even in Europe where guns are not routinely owned by the general population, there remains a problem. Police are often armed, and innocent people do get killed. What is more, criminals carry guns, and in the drug infested suburbs of major cities, the criminals carry automatic weapons. 

Banning guns in the USA may be the answer; it may help alleviate the problem.  But it won’t stop criminals carrying weapons.  

And because the American authorities have failed to address this issue, we witness political extremists weaponising it.  There is not just the Communist agenda behind the otherwise legitimate campaign concern that Black Lives Matter.  But worse, the notion among certain academic liberals  that the problem is not just individuals like Chauvin, but all White people.

This was not how Gandhi or Mandela chose to tackle the monumental and historic problems they faced

Ray Catlin

Ref. Qualified Immunity, see

Supreme Court Weighs Qualified Immunity For Police Accused Of Misconduct (npr.org)