Contributing Writer @mzmuhammad1
As prosecutions move forward, convictions of officers accused of murdering George Floyd are far off–as usual in cop killings
Justice has taken center stage and the Black community holds its collective breath as the prosecution of police officers for the death of George Floyd begins to slowly unwind.
A Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter remains behind bars. A judge set Derek Chauvin’s unconditional bail at $1.25 million or $1 million with conditions. The defendant said almost nothing during an 11-minute hearing. He appeared before Hennepin County Judge Denise Reilly on closed-circuit television from the state’s maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights. His attorney, Eric Nelson, did not contest the bail, according to news accounts. Mr. Chauvin’s next appearance is set for June 29.
Three other officers, J. Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, are charged with aiding and abetting in the death of Mr. Floyd. Two remain in the Hennepin County jail on a $750,000 bond. Mr. Lane was released June 10 after posting the bond.
Philadelphia attorney Robert Muhammad expects the arc of justice to be long, hard, and arduous. Having been on both sides of the aisle as a prosecutor and defense attorney, he told The Final Call: “The first thing will be, as this case moves forward, is finding a fair and impartial jury. What the defense will attempt to do is move the case outside of Minneapolis and send it to a suburban area where it will be difficult to find a jury member who is a person of color.”
“As the police department sanctioned chokeholds, he (Officer Derek Chauvin) will probably claim he did nothing but follow the police department’s rules and procedures as he was trained,” said Atty. Muhammad. “Officers in many instances are allowed to use deadly force, and that is the concept of ‘objective reasonableness.’ The only other argument the defense may make is there was no intent” to kill Mr. Floyd.
Asked about the likelihood of a conviction, Atty. Muhammad responded, “Allah (God) is the best knower.” His hesitancy reflects cautions about the difficulty of convicting cops expressed by the lead prosecutor in the case. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison early on said getting a conviction would be hard. Reality reveals something about the challenges faced:
– Activists and advocates say the justice system is designed to insulate police officers when their actions result in death.
– Ninety-nine percent of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime, according to Mapping Police Violence, which tracks deadly police encounters.
– Since 2005, no judge has ever convicted an officer of murder or manslaughter while using lethal force in the line of duty, according to Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson in widely published reports.
– The legal system tends to give a presumption of good faith to officers.
– And lastly, there is an unholy alliance between prosecutors and police. According to a compelling story in The Nation magazine, “Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop,” the article states, “Altering prosecutors’ relationship with the police isn’t a simple or easy reform, for instance–it would be a fundamental shift in the way our criminal justice system works.”
The lead prosecutor in the Floyd death is the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. The Final Call attempted to reach the office for comment and was referred to Deputy Chief of Staff John Styles. He did not respond to calls and texts by press time.
A heartbreaking video, now shown around the world, captured the Memorial Day death of Mr. Floyd as then-officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the Black man’s neck for almost nine minutes, and the other three cops on the scene did virtually nothing. The victim pleaded with officers that he could not breathe and called for his mother as bystanders begged the cop to get off the man’s neck. The officers were fired shortly after the death and unrest in its wake.
During an emotional eulogy delivered at the June 9 final homegoing service for George Floyd in his hometown Houston, civil rights leader Al Sharpton said, “This is a time that we need to understand that they are going to do everything they can to delay these trials and delay the accountability and try to wear this family down.”
“If four Black cops had done to one White what was done to George, they wouldn’t have to teach no new lessons. … They would send them to jail,” the Rev. Sharpton said. “How are you going to scare a bad cop if bad cops don’t go to jail? Who taught these cops that they can do this to George? This was not just a tragedy. It was a crime.”
Anthony Shahid is a longtime activist and was a leading voice demanding justice in 2014 after the police killing of Mike Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson became an epicenter for protests confronting police violence and murder as law enforcement on the scene turned out streets arrayed in military gear, firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
“The police unions need to step forward,” Mr. Shahid said. “They should be asking for convictions and should not be putting up money for these rouge officers (to bail them out). Until the unions hold their members accountable, it will be business as usual. That’s what is going to change things.”
“You have lawyers that specialize in loopholes and lying. The good police need to check the bad ones. They need to say, ‘you will not be allowed to pull guns without reason, chokeholds, or your knee on somebody’s neck.’ They should protect and serve and not become judge, jury, and executioner.”
Mr. Shahid said from his experience in the streets, “Black youth don’t dislike the police; they hate the police because of the havoc they’ve reaped upon the community.”
He added, “The White attorneys are doing better than the Black attorneys, White doctors are doing better than Black doctors, and the White atheist is doing better than the Black atheist. I don’t care what category you use. This isn’t about the police; it’s about justice in every aspect of America. These people are now being forced to confront their racism. Anytime you live with someone who is forced to do the right thing, there can be no trust. For me, the only answer is separation.”
Longtime Minneapolis community activist Harry “Spike” Moss told The Final Call that Michael Freeman, Hennepin County district attorney, sat down with the Black state attorney general and met with the officer to cut a deal early on. “The offending officer didn’t want to do a day in jail, so the deal broke down. When he couldn’t get the deal, Keith Ellison came back with second-degree murder charges,” said Mr. Moss.
As far as needed changes, Mr. Moss said the police union needs to be disbanded.
“The policies and rules that govern the police department need to be changed,” he added.
The Black community is supporting Black police commissioner Medaria Arradondo, who has withdrawn from contract negotiations with the police union, Mr. Moss continued. “I can’t wait to call him and tell him congratulations. This is a first.”
Minneapolis also plans to disband its police department. In an open letter published June 11, fourteen Minneapolis police officers said they condemned the actions of onetime officer Chauvin. We Are With You in the denouncement of Derek Chauvin’s actions on Memorial Day, 2020,” the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported. “Like us, Derek Chauvin took an oath to hold the sanctity of life most precious. Derek Chauvin failed as a human and stripped George Floyd of his dignity and life. This is not who we are.”
The officers insisted they represent the feelings of the majority of cops and said they are not the union or the police department administration.
Playing a role in the homegoing service in Houston for “Big Floyd,” as George Floyd was known in his hometown, was Nation of Islam student Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad and the Fruit of Islam of Muhammad Mosque No. 45 who helped with security inside the church. As fate would have it, the Nation had a longstanding relationship with the Floyd family, specifically the mother. “We have known the family since 2013,” student Minister Haleem Muhammad told The Final Call. “She lived next door to a cafÃ© that was owned by one of the brothers. Ms. Sissy, as we knew her had suffered a stroke. We would visit and pray with her. After she regained her health, she came to the mosque as she promised. Big Floyd was with her.”
“The request for our participation was made from the pastor of the Fountain of Praise Church, where the viewing and funeral were held for the FOI to help with security for what had become a world event. After receiving a formal request, Minister Farrakhan gave us the green light to comfort the family,” Min. Haleem Muhammad said. “We covered down both the viewing and the funeral.”
As far as outcomes, the Muslim student minister said despite appearances those who are evil are working for God. “They are going to do anything they can to get the cops off. They are going to try to discredit the family. Anything they can’t do to get it into court, they are going to do their all to poison the jury pool.”
“Under these circumstances, I can’t predict outcomes, but I know that everything that is going down is forcing our people to come to the best and only solution. Our people are going to have to come to grips with our program: Separation,” he said.