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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

2020 ElectionInsurrectionNews and informationPolitical Analysis

Guilty: Notes on the Derek Chauvin Verdict and the Aftermath

Yesterday, a jury in Minnesota announced their verdict. They found Derek Chauvin guilty on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter for killing George Floyd. In a country where we’ve become accustomed to seeing law enforcement officers break the law with incredible impunity, this verdict came as a stunning moment of accountability. Still, there’s so much more change for us to pursue, and to adopt. 

Black Lives Matter. It shouldn’t be “controversial” for anyone to point out that Black Lives Matter every day. And no, it’s not “inciting violence” to point out that just one criminal trial that resulted from the death of one victim who never should have been shot dead in the first place isn’t enough to solve the larger crisis of institutionalized racism.

First, a reminder of who and what actually matters here

Like so many other Americans, I was bracing for the worst. Also like so many other Americans, I saw the gawd-awful “hot takes” pop up across social media. “Will Black Americans accept the jury’s verdict, no matter what?” “Will there be riots?” “How will President Joe Biden respond to another round of ‘urban riots’?” “Why are Democrats so bad at speaking to Trump voters’ ‘economic anxiety’?”

Of course, the list goes on. And of course, this sampling of the gawd-awful “hot takes” that bombarded my Twitter feed speaks to the very distorted view of “criminal justice” that so many of us white people are still plagued with. Earlier this month, the neo-Nazi organized “White Lives Matter” events drew little national media coverage. But following the murder of George Floyd and the trial of the defendant who was charged with his murder, we again saw a whole lot of hyperventilating over “riots” and “violence”. 

At least during the trial of Derek Chauvin, millions of Americans also had the opportunity to see the anatomy of the real violence that constituted real crimes. Yet considering that only seven police officers were convicted of murder following suspicious fatal police shootings from 2005 to 2020, and that over 98% of fatal police shootings never even result in any criminal charges, many still wondered about the final outcome of this trial despite the evidence that was presented during the trial.

Wait, what does Maxine Waters have to do with this?

Just hours before the court announced that the jury reached a verdict, the U.S. House voted along party lines, 216-210, to table a motion to censure Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California). House Republicans seized upon her comments to reporters from a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, last Saturday, and upon the subsequent complaints from Judge Peter Cahill and Chauvin’s defense lawyers about Waters’ comments at that protest, to claim that Waters was “inciting violence” in Minnesota.

In Brooklyn Center last Saturday, Waters had some advice for Black Lives Matter activists for next steps after the trial: “We know that we’ve got to not only stay in the street, but we’ve got to fight for justice.” And when asked what activists should have done had Chauvin been acquitted of the murder charges, Waters replied, “Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

When she later spoke with The Grio, Waters noted that there was a protest in Brooklyn Center because that’s where another fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black American occurred, one where police officer Kim Potter killed Daunte Wright. She also disputed far-right media pundits’ rush to add a “violent” spin to her words: “I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on, I’m talking about speaking up. I’m talking about legislation. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation.”

If Republicans now want to argue that these and other recent comments from Rep. Maxine Waters constitute the “incitement of violence”, then how on earth are we supposed to interpret their own comments following last November’s presidential election? Why are they still refusing to cooperate on even forming an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol? It’s rather rich for several of the central figures behind the January 6 coup attempt to now accuse someone else of “inciting violence”, and it’s appalling to see so many media pundits fall for this “weapon of mass distraction” shtick all over again.

What’s been happening on the legislative front(s) since the murder of George Floyd?
Nevada Legislature, tax, budget
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since last weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters and Black Lives Matter activists have made clear that one criminal trial and one jury verdict can not single-handedly solve the crisis of police brutality in America. That’s resulted in some changes to our criminal justice system here in Nevada, such as banning police chokeholds, establishing the duty to intervene should any officer find a colleague using excessive force, and modifying the 2019 “Officers’ Bill of Rights” that imposed statewide rules for police departments to investigate officer misconduct cases and impose penalties. 

So far the Nevada Legislature is considering a few more criminal justice bills this session, such as SB 369 and AB 424 to establish new statewide rules for bail following a 2020 Nevada Supreme Court decision that set new restrictions on criminal courts’ imposition of cash bail. Other bills, such as SB 401 to mandate courts to collect pretrial detention data to provide to the Legislature, and AB 440 to ban the detention of defendants accused of non-violent misdemeanors, also appear to be advancing. However when it comes to some bigger changes, such as AB 395 to abolish the death penalty that’s been shown to disproportionately hit Black defendants the hardest, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) has issued statements that at the very least suggest a tough road ahead despite AB 395 passing the Assembly along party lines on April 13.

Moving back to the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act stalled in the then Republican-run Senate after it passed the Democratic-run House last June. As we discussed last September, “The Justice in Policing Act bans chokeholds (like the one that killed George Floyd), bans ‘no-knock warrants’ for federal drug crime investigations, creates a national registry to track police misconduct, expands the scope of police misconduct eligible for federal criminal prosecution, and ties federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to reform benchmarks going forward. While Republican leaders have derided this bill as ‘radical’, some Black Lives Matter movement leaders have criticized this bill and other leading Democratic proposals for not going far enough in redirecting funding away from enforcement-heavy police regimes that mostly target communities of color.”

The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act again last month on a mostly party-line 220-212 vote. Yet while Democrats now set the agenda in the U.S. Senate, it remains unclear when, or even if, this bill will reach the Senate floor. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both used a special address from the White House yesterday to demand that the Senate act. But with Congressional Republicans again signaling they have virtually zero interest in supporting any version of the Justice in Policing Act, this will likely be another case where Senate Democrats must decide whether they want to actually legislate more by changing their chamber’s filibuster rules, or just let this bill die while they talk about “bipartisanship” that rarely ever materializes beyond government shutdown (particularly debt ceiling) deadlines. 

It really says something about America in 2021 that so many of us were so (relievably) surprised by the Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts. Again, under 2% of fatal police shootings even result in criminal charges against the police officers who pulled the trigger, and Chauvin is only the eighth police officer since 2005 who’s actually been convicted of murder. We need to keep these numbers in mind. More importantly, we need to keep in mind the continually growing list of Black Americans who died of police brutality, including the 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant who was shot dead in Columbus, Ohio, just minutes before Judge Cahill announced the jury’s verdict on Chauvin.

It’s easy for us to follow the Las Vegas Raiders’ example and proclaim, “I can breathe,” and to echo Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) proclamation that, “The justice system works.” We can’t afford to continue to pursue such an “easy way out”, just so we can get back to ignoring this glaring crisis where Black and Brown Americans bear the brunt of white Americans’ desire to maintain the illusion of “law and order”. This illusion might help some of us “feel safe”, but it’s ultimately a destructive illusion that criminalizes the mere existence of millions of people while absolving criminals so long as they “look right”, “act right”, and “know the right people”. 

While it’s a relief to see some kind of accountability materialize, we shouldn’t pretend that, “The justice system works,” just because one murder resulted in one murder conviction. Black Lives Matter, and it’s long past time for us to take this simple statement from our Instagram feeds and extend it into our communities.

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