The jury got the Chauvin verdict right this time, but this should only be the beginning of police reform

  • In US
  • 2022-05-26 14:22:32Z
  • By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nine minutes, 29 seconds.

That is the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck, killing him on May 25, 2020.

It took a jury of seven women and five men 10 hours to find Chauvin guilty Tuesday on all counts in the murder. His bond was revoked and he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

The jury got it right, but this is only the beginning.

Chauvin killed Floyd and the world watched in horror, and now Chauvin faces decades behind bars.

Justice for Floyd must not end here.

Every officer involved in the incident, from those holding Floyd down, to those who stood by and did nothing while Floyd cried out "I can't breathe," over and over again, is responsible. They never de-escalated the situation.

This Trial of the Century was officially "State of Minnesota vs. Derek Michael Chauvin." But it was so much more.

It right vs. wrong.

People of color vs. dirty cops.

Civil rights vs. racism.

The jury's decision should reinvigorate the Black Lives Matter movement, so that it keeps the pressure on cities, states and law enforcement agencies, keeps the pressure on until police reform becomes a reality, not just a chant heard during marches or when another unarmed person of color is killed by police.

A sad Milwaukee legacy

Tyrone Dumas held his breath until the first guilty verdict was read. When the second and third had been read, he exhaled.

"I was surprised, especially living in Milwaukee where we have seen how it went the other way," said Dumas, 68, a longtime education consultant, activist and mentor to Black boys in the city of Milwaukee.

"We had Frank Jude and Ernest Lacy," he said.

Jude was beaten by police. Lacy was killed by police.

As he watched the closing arguments, Dumas felt a sense of deja vu.

"I kept thinking of the Rodney King case and all the visuals they had along with the evidence and then the outcome," Dumas said. "Then I thought back to the Daniel Bell case in Milwaukee and how the police department tried to cover up the shooting."

Bell, 22, was stopped by Milwaukee police on Feb. 2, 1958, for a broken taillight. Moments later he was fatally shot.

Officer Thomas Grady chased Bell and claimed that when he had Bell cornered, Bell lunged at him with a knife. Grady shot Bell from behind. The bullet entered Bell's head. He died at the scene. The shooting was ruled justified, but Milwaukee's Black community had doubts.

The community was right.

Two decades later, another officer who was at the scene said Bell never lunged at Grady, never had a knife. After the shooting, the officer said, Grady planted a large knife on Bell. Grady would confess in 1979 and was convicted of reckless homicide and perjury. A year later, a jury awarded the Bell family $1.7 million.

"You can have all the evidence and a jury will still believe an officer," said Dumas. "And if the officer is wrong, all he has to do is say this is what the training said to do."

Dumas said if the case would have ended up in a hung jury - or, worse, an acquittal - it would have signaled to the world that Black lives really don't matter.

"Please. I cant breathe."

While the Chauvin case was not intended to be a mark on the Minneapolis police as a whole, in practice these cases often turn into the vilification of an entire police force.

I don't hate police officers, but as a Black man, I have come across a few who I don't care for.

One stopped me on my way home a few years ago for a "traffic infraction," only to ask me if my car was mine and if I had a job. I was a block away from my home, and because I wanted to get home safely, I didn't argue with the officer.

He let me go after 10 minutes, but he never gave me a good reason for stopping me in the first place.

I never let that incident or other bad run-ins with law enforcement officials make me say all police officers are bad. But I'm also not one who believes there are only one or two Chauvins on a large police force.

Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson contended Chauvin acted reasonably and followed police training when he subdued Floyd. He also said Floyd had a heart condition and often used illegal drugs, saying that may have played a factor in Floyd's death.

But it wasn't Floyd's heart condition, nor his drug use that caused him to die on Memorial Day last year. We all saw the video. He died because of Chauvin's knee on the back of his neck.

The jury agreed.

If you watched the video, you saw Floyd die a slow, painful death. You saw that Chauvin showed no compassion for a man begging for his life and for his mother.

At times, Chauvin even put his hands in his pockets while he balanced his weight on Floyd's neck.

Floyd's final words: "Please. I can't breathe."

"He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd," said prosecutor Steve Schleicher. "He betrayed the badge."

Unequal treatment

One of my friends argued that George Floyd would be alive today if he only complied with police in the first place. Officers had gotten a call about a man using an alleged counterfeit $20 bill at CUP Foods.

But when the officers arrived, Floyd was sitting in a car. The officer who approached him pointed a gun at his head and told Floyd to get out.

There is no indication Floyd even knew the $20 was a fake.

But even if he did, was a gun necessary at this point?

Police officers have treated mass murderers better than they have treated Black men who may have committed a misdemeanor.

When 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire on a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, killing nine, officers got the neo-Nazi food from Burger King when he said he was hungry.

Roof lived to see his day in court. Floyd did not.

In March, the City of Minneapolis awarded Floyd's family $27 million. This money will come from taxpayers, but it seems unfair for residents - many whom are people of color - to have to pay for Chauvin's actions.

The money should come from the pensions of the accused officers. Police reform efforts should start to target department budgets and pension plans, to cover the millions paid out for police misconduct and brutality.

Being a police officer may be the only profession where an officer can kill someone and still collect a pension.

The fact the burden falls on taxpayers has to change.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s columnist James E.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s columnist James E.  

Hundreds of names

In September, my wife and I drove to Minneapolis to see the George Floyd memorial. I had to see it for myself. I needed to see where this man took his last breath.

I wanted to be at ground zero where the Black Lives Matter movement ignited across the country last year.

We spent two hours at the memorial, reading notes loved ones had left for those lost.

There was a small crowd, but it was eerily quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts. There wasn't the hustle or bustle of a normally busy street. Those present were somber, moved slowly and showed respect for the sacred ground.

What surprised me the most is how the memorial was not just for Floyd, but rather for every person of color who lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officers. The names were written in the middle of the blocked-off street.

There were hundreds of names.

Many I remember, because I either saw the video or saw the news reports. But there were dozens I had never heard of. Names like Adaisah Miller, who was accidentally shot and killed in 2012 when an off-duty officer's gun discharged while he was dancing with her; or Terrance Coleman, a mentally ill man shot and killed by Boston police in 2016.

Black people and other marginalized groups must continue to apply pressure to state and national politicians - the same unrelenting pressure Chauvin used on Floyd - to ensure fair and just process for ALL citizens.

Floyd's death should not be in vain. Floyd's daughter, Gianna, said her daddy would change the world.

Well, he did.


James E. Causey started reporting on life in his city while still at Marshall High School through a Milwaukee Sentinel high school internship. He's been covering his hometown ever since, writing and editing news stories, projects and opinion pieces on urban youth, mental health, employment, housing and incarceration. Most recently, he wrote "What happened to us?" which tracked the lives of his third-grade classmates, and "Cultivating a community," about the bonding that takes place around a neighborhood garden. Causey was a health fellow at the University of Southern California in 2018 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2007.

Email him at and follow him on Twitter: @jecausey.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Chauvin jury got verdict right, but true police reform still needed


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