A murderer has been found guilty of his crime. That should not be cause for celebration. The arrival of justice should be expected, not greeted with a sense of palpable relief. And yet, in the case of Derek Chauvin, justice had been delayed or excused in so many other cases that Tuesday’s guilty verdict had to serve as a reminder that no one is above the law — something we should not need to be reminded of. Something that should be expected. The cause now is to make sure that it is.
For too long, guarded by a combination of policy and culture, abusive police officers have been allowed to violate the law. It continues today, and it is abetted not only by police officers who are loath to investigate their colleagues but by state and local governments run by elected officials who fear the consequences of not being seen as “tough on crime.”
In Florida, that has meant a state legislature and governor who saw the cries for justice since the murder of George Floyd and felt that the best way to address them would be to shut them up. The day before the verdict in the Chauvin case came down, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1, the so-called “anti-riot” law. The last section of the bill notes that it becomes law the moment it is signed.
We do not believe it was coincidence that DeSantis signed the bill quickly before the Chauvin verdict came down. Had the verdict gone the other way, authorities would have had a new, powerful tool to quell any dissent.
A reminder: Rioting was already illegal in Florida. Under DeSantis’ new law, anyone who participates in a protest at which anyone else gets violent could be arrested for rioting, a third-degree felony, and anyone who commits a battery in furtherance of a riot is now guilty of an additional third-degree felony.
Which raises the question: In Fort Lauderdale, when Officer Steven Pohorence shoved a protestor to the ground, touching off a melee in what had been a peaceful protest, was he committing a felony? And should the rest of the officers there have been arrested as participants?
Ridiculous, of course, but then, so is DeSantis’ “anti-riot” law.
This is the sort of legal reform the state offers us in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and it only illustrates how far we have to go.
What we truly need is a prosecutorial office dedicated to crimes committed by law enforcement, so that the prosecutor involved is not beholden to police.
We need an end to qualified immunity for police officers so that they can be sued for their misdeeds, a reform that is more achievable than it may seem, drawing support from both the left and the more libertarian-minded right.
We need to curb the power of police unions, through which wildly guilty officers have been shielded from any scrutiny, up to and including an instance in Boston, reported doggedly by the Boston Globe, in which the Boston police commissioner learned of possible child sexual abuse on the part of an officer, but after pressure from the union, the officer was allowed to keep his badge and even investigated child sexual assault cases. The officer, Patrick M. Rose Sr., later became president of the union before finally retiring in 2018. In August 2020, he was finally arrested, charged with 33 counts of abusing six children over decades.
Police should have the right to collectively bargain, just like any other workers. But if the state can ban teachers from striking, it can certainly ban police unions from negotiating complicated appeals processes that guarantee bad cops return to the force, repeal the state’s police bill of rights and bar law enforcement agencies from hiring police who have been fired while on the job elsewhere.
We don’t need leaders who, like U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, encourage already-angry people to “get confrontational” if a court verdict doesn’t go their way. But we also don’t need leaders like DeSantis who suggested Chauvin was found guilty because of the threat of mob violence.
“I don’t know what happened with this verdict,” DeSantis was quick to add in his appearance on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle Tuesday night, “but if that’s something that can potentially happen, where you basically have justice meted out because the jury is scared of what a mob may do, and again, I’m not saying that’s what happened here … that’s completely antithetical to the rule of law.”
Viewers of Fox News should be all too familiar with guests and hosts couching their entirely inappropriate comments in such guarded speculation.
What we need are more people like Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who recorded Chauvin crushing the life out of George Floyd. Were it not for her actions that day, perhaps the Minneapolis Police Department’s account of the incident would be all we had. That press release was headlined “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.”