On Tuesday, a Minneapolis jury returned a guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. What happened was not justice in any sense. It was both an exercise in communal vengeance, only a half-step removed from a lynching, and a Mesoamerican human sacrifice to appease the Angry Gods. The entire farce of a trial called to mind the aphorism attributed to Judge Roy Bean, “We’ll give you a fair trial and a first class hanging.” Except Chauvin only got half of that.
My revulsion at what transpired in Minneapolis has nothing to do with an affinity for the police power of the state (I have none). It doesn’t mean I am of the “Back the Blue” philosophy (beyond when it is useful to troll the left). It doesn’t mean that I believe that Chauvin was blameless in the episode, though I think the record is much more ambiguous than my colleague Jeff Charles (see Derek Chauvin Is Guilty).
From the very beginning, it was apparent that Chauvin could not get a fair trial in Minneapolis. The local and national media had whipped up a frenzy pushing the narrative of a “racist” cop and the death of yet another of the near-mythical “gentle giants.” (How many of these guys are there? Is there a school you go to? Is there a selection course? How many felony convictions to you need to qualify?) The result was weeks of peaceful protesting.
In March of this year, the City of Minneapolis agreed to a highly publicized $27 million settlement with the estate of George Floyd, effectively declaring that the city government viewed Chauvin as guilty. I say “effectively” because Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey had clearly declared that he wanted Chauvin punished and coordinated the settlement with the Floyd estate to coincide with jury selection. He appeared at a joint 90-minute press conference with the Floyd family. These actions went far beyond being “bad optics.” They were a concerted effort to guarantee that anyone in the jury pool knew that the city power brokers desperately wanted a guilty verdict.
Chauvin’s defense team requested a change of venue due to the pre-trial publicity, and the judge rejected it. One only has to look back at the Rodney King trial to understand why. By taking the trial out of Minneapolis, Chauvin might actually get a presumption of innocence. This is something that seems to be out of vogue both on the left and with the woke right these days. A presumption of innocence might result in a jury wondering why the prosecution was arguing that the state medical examiner was wrong and why a very expensive say-anything hired gun had to be brought in to prove the medical examiner wrong. And if a dispassionate and disinterested jury decided that Chauvin was not proven guilty of any of the charges, then what had happened in Minneapolis the previous summer was just a warm-up to what would happen next.
Once the judge decided to leave the case in Minneapolis, Chauvin was convicted.
The jurors were all highly aware of the Floyd case, of the riots, and probably of the extravagant settlement made by Minneapolis in acknowledging Floyd’s death as wrongful. All of them had to realize that their names would be made public at some point, and if they had voted to acquit Chauvin on anything, they would be held up to public ridicule and labeled racist, as well as having their lives and property put in jeopardy. Again, going back to the Rodney King trial, these jurors knew from the very start that if they found Chauvin not guilty of anything, riots were inevitable, and they would be blamed for the ensuing carnage and destruction. Unlike the Rodney King jurors, these people lived where the riots would take place.
The next affirmative step taken to ensure the Potemkin trial did not go awry was not to sequester the jury. Even though the jury was told not to read or watch or listen to any coverage of the trial, I’d be willing to bet that a non-trivial number of jurors did so. As media began a rather public process of doxing the jurors, I’m sure family and friends found ways to warn them. See CBS News Starts the Process of Doxxing Chauvin Trial Jurors and It Happened: Derek Chauvin Trial Jurors Now Partially Doxxed as They Deliberate on a Verdict.
A member of congress called for riots if Chauvin were acquitted; see Maxine Waters Calls for More Aggressive Confrontations in the Street, if Chauvin Is Not Found Guilty of Murder. The selectee in the White House said he was “praying” for a guilty verdict:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Biden says he is praying for 'right verdict' in Chauvin trial, adds: 'It is overwhelming in my view.'
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) April 20, 2021
The former, that’s right, former, home of a defense witness was vandalized:
Last week, use-of-force expert Barry Brodd testified that former officer Derek Chauvin was justified in his conduct toward George Floyd. But the vandals attacked his former home in Santa Rosa. https://t.co/ItM7rRxeqn
— KTVU (@KTVU) April 20, 2021
In short, regardless of Chauvin’s actions, Derek Chauvin never had a chance for anything approaching a fair trial. He was tried by a jury composed of people who were well aware that the city government wanted Chauvin convicted. They were rightfully fearful for their own lives, property, and careers; if they returned anything less than guilty on all counts, their lives would never be the same…assuming that some number of jurors didn’t hide their feelings to get on the jury so they could ensure the correct verdict.
We have moved beyond the Constitutional ideal of a fair trial to something much more sinister, that is, the use of the judicial process to exact vengeance on a man not only as an oblation to the mob but as a way of moving a political narrative forward. None of us are safe because trials are no longer about guilt or innocence or justice; they are about ensuring the right outcome in the right cases.
One final note. I saw this commentary and commentary like it over and over.
The George Floyd case would've been an easy way for Republicans to bridge the gap with black voters. After all, we all saw George being murdered. But instead, the GOP let the crazy lead and found themselves on the wrong side of history AGAIN!! I give up. #wednesdaythought
— Mitchie (@wittywriter) April 21, 2021
If it takes kangaroo trials to build bridges, then I’m not interested in crossing that particular canyon.