‘Too Rare’: Derek Chauvin’s Conviction Is Not The Norm For Cops Who Kill

On Tuesday (April 20), former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd last May. His conviction, though, has highlighted how rare police officers who kill are arrested, charged, or convicted. 

“Today’s verdict is a step forward,” President Joe Biden said in his remarks following the announcement of Chauvin’s guilty verdict. “Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare,” Biden said. He added that, “For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors,” to get Chauvin’s conviction, and he isn’t wrong. 

According to data from The Washington Post, police officers in the US kill about 1,000 people each year. When officers are charged in cases, less than half of them are convicted, and if they are, it’s with lesser charges. Researchers at Bowling Green State University found that between 2005 and June 2019, only 104 non-federal law enforcement officers were arrested on manslaughter or murder charges. Only 35 of those arrests were convicted of a crime. Fifteen of those convicted officers pleaded guilty, and a jury found 20 of them guilty, making Chauvin’s conviction rare. This is true even when video evidence and national attention is on the cases. 

Eric Garner’s 2014 killing by NYC police officers sparked national outrage as millions saw his death captured on a bystander video, but none of the officers were convicted. The officer involved in his killing was fired after more than five years. Philando Castile’s killing was captured on video in 2016 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and the officer was acquitted by a jury. Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her sleep by Louisville, Kentucky police officers and only one was disciplined for the bullets that entered a neighboring apartment.

So what makes getting convictions for police officers harder? The Post reported that legal experts find people conflicted about officers’ on-duty responsibilities and the deadly outcomes that often come from them being carried out. 

“Oftentimes, what we see in these case is one or two jurors will be very reluctant to convict an officer,” Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson told the outlet. “They just aren’t willing to judge a police officer for their on-duty acts of violence,” he added. 

Stinson said that other cases with video, like in Chauvin’s case, wasn’t enough to get a criminal conviction. “This was not a slam dunk for the prosecution,” he said. “I think they were well aware it was going to be a difficult case.”

Prosecutors in the Chauvin trial played and replayed the video of Floyd’s murder and called dozens of witnesses to the stand, including eye witnesses, law enforcement officers who knew Chauvin on the force, and use of force experts.They also called several medical experts to testify how Chauvin cut off Floyd’s air supply while kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. 

With all of that Chauvin’s defense tried to say his actions were “reasonable” based on a 1989 Supreme Court decision that says an officer’s actions have to be judged based on what a “reasonable officer” would do if in the same situation. Chauvin’s law enforcement colleagues continuously denied that being the standard of training in the Minneapolis Police Department and that they wouldn’t have done what Chauvin did. 

Officers also use the fear of their own life as reasoning for their actions. As Yahoo News reported, racial bias among jurors, and the complicated professional relationships between police officers and prosecutors are also contributing factors to low conviction rates of police officers.

Though Chauvin was convicted, many have warned that the push for justice and change is not over.

Photos: Getty Images

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