During his closing argument, Steve Schleicher, one of the prosecutors trying the former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, insisted that jurors could convict Chauvin without convicting policing.
“This is not an anti-police prosecution,” Schleicher told the jury. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”
For his part, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, told the jury that “all of the evidence shows that Mr. Chauvin thought he was following his training. He was, in fact, following his training.”
Both were correct.
In May 2020, four days after the harrowing video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he begged for his life was first seen by the public, Chauvin became one of the few police officers ever indicted for killing someone in the line of duty. Yesterday, as my colleague David A. Graham wrote, he became one of the even fewer to be convicted.
The video of Floyd’s murder sparked what may have been the largest civil-rights protests in American history; it was the most consequential entry in a thick catalog of police abuses recorded by cellphone cameras. But whatever verdict the jury rendered, police advocates would have claimed victory. Chauvin’s acquittal would have reinforced the presumption that any use of force by a white police officer against a Black man is reasonable. His conviction, though, was swiftly claimed as affirmation that the current system is capable of dispensing justice. Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Patrick Yoes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, declared that “our system of justice worked as it should.”