Guilty as Charged! Will Derek Chauvin’s Verdict Change the Police Culture?

chauvin guilty as charged

Now that Derek Chauvin has been found guilty I can’t help but wonder how he feels about the case his defense team put on. It’s no small feat to defend the man who held a handcuffed human being down on the ground and asphyxiated him in broad daylight in witness of a group of traumatized bystanders who were prevented from helping but could only video the modern day lynching for perpetuity. It took quite a legal defense even if they were going to lose.  An expensive legal defense at that. Guilty or not, Derek Chauvin’s lawyers got paid. Which brings us to the question, how did a police officer afford to hire a lawyer who smiled for the camera? 

He didn’t. 

Eric Nelson, Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney, had a team of a dozen attorneys to back him up and a million dollar fund footing the bill. Whose foot did the footing you ask? 

Eric Nelson, “a private attorney with Halberg Criminal Defense” was being funded by “the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association‘s legal defense fund”.  The fund carried the “financial burden, including attorneys salaries”, to see to it that Derek Chauvin did not see the inside of a cell. An uphill battle because people believed what they saw. And they saw a man murdered, more accurately lynched. 

“The group, Minnesota’s largest federation of officers and unions, is paying for up to a dozen other attorneys working the case behind the scenes, according to MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters.”

What is this association exactly? The about us on its website leaves me to think this is an umbrella organization – the mother union of them all – under which local unions join to be a part by paying dues.

“The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) was founded in 1922 and its members include municipal police officers, county deputy sheriffs, correctional officers and other public safety professionals employed in the State of MN. The MPPOA is the largest association representing public safety professionals in the State of Minnesota.”

“From the beginning, the MPPOA’s founding members sought to establish civil service protection for police officers across the state. Because a police officer’s job could be dependent on the incoming administration’s wishes, it often led to corruption in the police profession. A substantial effort by MPPOA board members to address this issue and build support across Minnesota communities led to the passing of the Civil Service enabling acts of 1929 and 1933. As a result, civil service coverage was extended to many of the law enforcement professionals in the state.”

“Today, the MPPOA continues to work aggressively on passing laws that support public safety and oppose laws that harm our profession. The MPPOA is the legislative voice to improve the working conditions and retirement benefits for public safety professionals and their families. In addition, through our efforts, Minnesota is one of the leaders in making benefits available to officers’ families that are killed in the line of duty.”

Eric Nelson, who works as a private attorney for is also an attorney listed on the legal defense fund page of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Assocition

“In 2015, he joined the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) Legal Defense Fund (LDF) Attorney Panel.”

The purpose of the legal defense fund is to provide legal counsel to its members:

“As a member of the Legal Defense Fund you have 24 hour access to the top criminal defense attorneys in the State of Minnesota. In the scope of doing your job if you become the target of a criminal investigation, a defendant in a civil action, P.O.S.T. Board discipline, or involved in a critical incident the Legal Defense Fund is here to serve you.”

“If you are a member of the MPPOA, you can join the LDF.”

There it is. Derek Chauvin was a member of the MPPOA (Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association) because he was a member of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis at the time he committed the crime and because they are members of MPPOA Chauvin was entitled to take advantage of the Legal Defense Fund to defend his egregious behavior. 

“That’s because all members of the MPPOA are entitled to its legal defense fund. That fund includes “legal representation in any civil or criminal action brought against him or her arising from any act or omission of the Participant within the scope of his or her employment.””

“Since Chauvin was a member of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and it is part of the MPPOA, he is a member of the MPPOA and receives those benefits. Even though he has been fired since the incident, he still gets support from the MPPOA because his charges are for acts he committed as a police officer.”

It sounds incestous to me – the kind of incest where someone has sex with their cousin rather than their sibling. They are still family but not living in the same house. Chauvin’s union is a paying member of the MPPOA and because of that Chauvin gets a world class defense for publically lynching George Floyd.  

But the world class defense brought back a world class “guilty as charged” which for “Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for manslaughter”. If I had to guess this now convicted murderer will probably go to “protective custody” in prison for fear that in ‘gen pop’ some inmate twice his size will rip his gizzard out. 

“Brian Peters, the executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, told the VERIFY team that it’s his organization that is paying for Chauvin’s defense. He said Chauvin is getting the same treatment any other member of the MPPOA would get.”

“We can’t pick and choose which cases we’re going to defend or not defend,” he said.”

They can’t pick their cases but they perpetuate the cycle of brutality because an officer knows they will be provided a defense and most likely protective custody if found guilty. 

Chauvin was found guilty but are we really tasting the nectar of victory?  

Minutes before the verdict came down a 15 year-old black girl in Ohio was shot to death by police. Makiyah Bryant is dead on the same night  as justice is served for George Floyd. 

“Officers were responding to an attempted stabbing call and, when police arrived, shot the girl around 4.45pm, officials said. The 911 caller reported a female was trying to stab them before hanging up, they said.”

“Hazel Bryant, who identified herself as the girl’s aunt, told the Columbus Dispatch that she lived in a nearby foster home. According to the Dispatch, Bryant said the teen got into a dispute with someone else at the foster home, and that her niece had a knife but dropped it before being shot multiple times by an officer.”

In the same week Eric Nelson was busy preparing closing arguments and trying his best to put the shred of doubt in at least one juror’s mind, Kim Potter, a 25 plus year veteran on the force murdered Daunte Wright – not 15 minutes from the courthouse where the Chauvin trial was happening – because she confused her gun for her taser.

Kim Potter will get her legal defense as well. And so will the next cop who reacts first, thinks last, and the default mode is excessive force on a non-violent human of color. The system perpetuates itself. If not for video cams or more to the point brave citizens like Darnella Frazier who videoed and posted the gruesome 9 minutes and 29 seconds of the murder of George Floyd the cops and media would attempt to cover up the facts of what really happened. 

“I still can’t get over how quick the news tried to cover up George Floyd’s death,” Frazier wrote. “Just makes me think what else got covered up if [there] was no evidence to see what really happened.”

When dues buys a defense by virtue of membership in police unions the very people who are supposed to protect us are sending the public a message that a cop can get away with murder and they will not have to worry about mortgaging their life for a lawyer or settling for the rookie public defender. Why then do they need to be mindful of the very people they took a pledge to protect? Yes, they can be found guilty and like Derek Chauvin spend the rest of their lives in prison but will this verdict be the wake-up call needed to overhaul a mentality – to perform a frontal lobotomy on a system that increasingly sees the very people they are paid to protect as the enemy? 

Police unions are in a league all their own. Unions in general are in existence to “ensure fair wages, benefits, and better working conditions for their members.” 

“Unions are organizations that negotiate with corporations, businesses, and other organizations on behalf of union members. There are trade unions, which represent workers who do a particular type of job, and industrial unions, which represent workers in a particular industry.”

Union workers engage in a process called collective bargaining with the employer to discuss the”employment environment”: the union will present its argument for a particular issue and the employer must decide whether they will concede to the employees’ demands or present a counter argument. 

“In reality, the goal of the union in collective bargaining is to improve the status of the worker while still keeping the employer in business. The bargaining relationship is continuous, rather than just a one-time affair.” 

It’s not just bargaining for what’s a fair share of the living wage pie – shame on the employer who knowingly turns a cheek to what they know is an unlivable income – it’s the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, not silence the voice that speaks truth to power, be transparent and accountable in business practices, admit mistakes, and practice a mindfulness that can trickle down as an example to model rather than one to repel. The employee-employer relationship is a symbiotic one and in a functional world should be based on mutualism and not parasitism. The employer needs the worker as much as the employee needs the employer but not at the expense of the employee’s humanity. 

“People want a voice on the job, and they’re becoming organized,” says Jeffery Buchanan, policy director of Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions, community groups, workers and religious organizations working to bolster conditions for the middle class in Silicon Valley. “Sometimes having a voice on the job is about how your company is acting on its mission and acting as a public citizen.”

So where does the police union fit into this image of working people bargaining for the right to be treated as stakeholders? 

“Police unions have always been outliers among organized labor, and there are many reasons why the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union has long refused to allow cops (and prison guards) into its organization. For one thing, no other union members hold the legal ability to straight-up kill another human being while on the job.” 

In his book, “Our Enemies in Blue”, Kristian Williams describes the police this way:

“Let’s begin with the basics: violence is an inherent part of policing. The 

police represent the most direct means by which the state imposes its will 

on the citizenry .  In the field of social control, police are specialists in violence. They are armed, trained, and authorized to 

use force. With varying degrees of subtlety, this colors their every action. 

Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter. Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.”

In the wake of George Floyd “news reports have suggested that police unions bear some of the responsibility for the violence perpetrated against African Americans”.

“Critics have assailed these unions for protecting officers who have abused their authority.”

It is understandable when the funding is coming from the police associations and unions for legal fees. 

“As author Kristian Williams explains in Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, police unions developed in relative isolation from the rest of the labor movement, and their reliance on institutional solidarity is vastly different from the class consciousness that powers the organizing of other workers. “The police are clearly part of the managerial machinery of capitalism,” Williams writes. “Their status as ‘workers’ is therefore problematic. Second, the agendas of police unions mostly reflect the interests of the institution (the police department) rather than those of the working class.””

The police view themselves as police first, workers second. The Blue Wall of Silence is testament to this notion of closing ranks and protecting the fellowship from within even when they know a fellow officer has committed a wrong. 

“Williams argues that the shared workplace identity that makes up the “thin blue line” mentality for cops transcends other identity markers, and shows how they view themselves as police first, and everything else second.”

The police come by this identity of separateness naturally. It’s ingrained in the formation of institutional policing. If police could have an “ism” at the end of the word then there would be a political ideology attached to the practice of policing and in fact there is. Although, the country was not founded with an organized police force in place in every city, town, and state. Quite the opposite, early police were either hired part-time by a privately funded for profit system or a volunteer system. Both inefficient. 

“Policing in Colonial America had been very informal, based on a for-profit, privately funded system that employed people part-time. Towns also commonly relied on a “night watch” in which volunteers signed up for a certain day and time, mostly to look out for fellow colonists engaging in prostitution or gambling. But that system wasn’t very efficient because the watchmen often slept and drank while on duty, and there were people who were put on watch duty as a form of punishment. Night-watch officers were supervised by constables, but that wasn’t exactly a highly sought-after job, either. 

The “first publicly funded police force was created in Boston in 1838” as a way to protect and safeguard the large shipping industry centered around the port of Boston. But I believe the beginning of systemic racism in policing has its roots in the South, with the creation of police forces for the preservation of the slavery system. 

“In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says; the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.”

As the 1800’s wore on and industrialization took hold, businessmen and politicians formed those incestous relationships which singled out those workers who might disrupt the industrial machine by going on strike. As police were charged with enforcing the law and keeping order, police sergeants and captains were picked by “local political party ward leaders” who often owned the businesses further intimidating and harassing voters and locals in furthering the interests of a particular political party. 

“For example, businessmen in the late 19th century had both connections to politicians and an image of the kinds of people most likely to go on strike and disrupt their workforce. So it’s no coincidence that by the late 1880s, all major U.S. cities had police forces. Fears of labor-union organizers and of large waves of Catholic, Irish, Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants, who looked and acted differently from the people who had dominated cities before, drove the call for the preservation of law and order, or at least the version of it promoted by dominant interests.”

“At the same time, the late 19th century was the era of political machines, so police captains and sergeants for each precinct were often picked by the local political party ward leader, who often owned taverns or ran street gangs that intimidated voters. They then were able to use police to harass opponents of that particular political party, or provide payoffs for officers to turn a blind eye to allow illegal drinking, gambling and prostitution.”

The roots of isolationist ideology within the police are ingrained in the very fabric of the system. Later efforts to professionalize the police only served to erect the Blue Wall of Silence and further isolate cops from the community. They stand apart as protectors yet they kill the very people they pledge to protect. The justification: kill or be killed even when a suspect is unarmed and non-violent. It was always “the other”: whether it was a black man or an Irishman,  or any other immigrant in the early days of policing. It’s still the “other”. We are all the “other”. 

“Further campaigns for police professionalism were promoted as the 20th century progressed, but crime historian Samuel Walker’s The Police in America: An Introduction argues that the move toward professionalism wasn’t all good: that movement, he argues, promoted the creation of police departments that were “inward-looking” and “isolated from the public,” and crime-control tactics that ended up exacerbating tensions between police and the communities they watch over.” 

Can the police culture change? Do police have a right to a defense funded by a union or a union association? 

I am happy that Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all charges but in the same ten minutes that his verdict was announced knowing that Makiyah Bryant was shot dead in Ohio makes me think that this was a lucky blip because a brave young teen, Darnella Frazier, videoed the murder or is it just one small step on a marathon run to change the ideology of police-ism. 

The ideology that the use of deadly force must always be the default use of any intervention. What would happen if police only used tasers and the bullets were the last resort? Makiyah Bryant would still be alive as would countless other human beings – too many to name but all missed by loved ones and all revealing a pattern of force that has become habitual and disturbing. A disregard for human life and a “wild west” approach to the job.

What can be done to increase police accountability? 

The bar for convicting police officers of criminal conduct is higher than for the average citizen. Perhaps that has to change. Maybe it should be lower because we hold them in such esteem? Murder is murder if a person is unarmed. And now with citizens who can video an event and body cam videos – a shooting can be replayed – there is no way to hide what the eyes can see. 

“Prosecutors know that the barometer for what we consider to be criminal conduct for police officers is extremely high – both legally and in the public’s perception. Most people perceive that if a police officer did something, he or she was doing it for their protection or the greater good of society. So, the bar for charging and convicting police officers is higher than the bar for regular citizens. Prosecutors, then, often take more time to ensure that a case is solid before they bring charges.”

“Bad” cops – cops who have had complaints against them should not be allowed to stay on the force. A rotten apple only gets more rotten. If the union contract protects them from being fired then that has to change. 

“Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd, has been involved in at least 18 police misconduct cases. He’s been involved in police shootings, and he’s been involved in cases that most people consider to be police brutality. What’s important is that this is a pattern.”

“Complaints of misconduct within police departments often go to internal affairs. The complaint goes up the chain, and if it makes all the way up, it goes to a trial board that typically involves three officers who decide if the accused officers have engaged in misconduct. The trial board serves as judge and jury of their own.”

“An officer must do something extremely egregious to be fired. But, there are other types of reprimand. Officers can be put on desk duty, paid or unpaid leave, or fined at a prorated amount in future paychecks. The problem is that all these actions are typically internal to policing.”

And there is racism within the force with black cops being “sanctioned more harshlythan white cops for the same bad behavior.  

Officers who have been terminated by the force should not be allowed to work in law enforcement again”. This recommendation is receiving support at the federal level. 

“It is part of Trump’s recent Executive Order and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that passed in the House of Representatives.”

In my humble opinion I don’t think they should even be allowed to work in private security. An itchy trigger finger will always be itchy. Any position of authority or power is an ego trip for a bad apple cop with an attitude who got fired. 

Another reform to increase police accountability is to “restructure civilian payouts by moving them from taxpayer money to police department insurance policies”.

 “In most cities and counties, civilian payouts for police misconduct come from general funds and not from police department budgets.”

“Civilian payouts for police misconduct put a strain on local governments and absolve police officers of culpability.” 

Maybe it’s time the police put their money where their mouths are. If they want to be peace officers then make peace with the communities they serve and become stakeholders rather than the ones who drive the stake through the heart of the community. 

“Currently, civil payouts for police misconduct have little impact on police departments. Little changes with their normal budgetary operating procedures. It does not have an impact on hiring and rarely impacts firing. However, these monies do impact city budgets in other ways. As I have written elsewhere, cities are paying millions of dollars in civilian payouts for police misconduct from taxpayer money that could be used for education, health, social services, and infrastructure.” 

It won’t change until the police make an effort for it to change. It’s time to step up and be part of the solution.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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