Other Opinion: In face of chaos, let charges lead to peace
Justice didn’t happen swiftly enough for many last week after a cell phone recording showed a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man in his custody until the man apparently stopped breathing. Justice certainly wasn’t swift enough to stave off the violence, rioting, and looting that left large areas of the Twin Cities, including a police precinct, on fire and destroyed. Unrest and unlawful behavior spread nationwide, including to Duluth.
But the third-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Officer Derek Chauvin on Friday actually came about “with extraordinary speed,” according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
“This is by far the fastest we’ve ever charged a police officer,” Freeman told reporters in a press conference announcing the charges. The press conference was livestreamed at duluthnewstribune.com and elsewhere. “Less than four days: that’s extraordinary. … Normally these cases can take nine months to a year. We have to charge these cases very carefully because we have a difficult burden of proof.”
Evidence takes time to pull together accurately, thoroughly, and in other ways to withstand legal challenges and to help ensure a successful prosecution. In the case built against Chauvin, the evidence includes video recordings from citizens, police body camera footage, witness statements, a preliminary report from the medical examiner, and expert testimony, Freeman indicated.
To the chagrin of critics, charges against Chauvin didn’t include first-degree or second-degree murder. But that’s perhaps because, as the charging complaint states, “The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”
Additional charges could still be added against Chauvin, Freeman said. Other officers on the scene with Chauvin also remain “under investigation,” said the county attorney, and “I anticipate charges” against them, too. All four officers were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department last week.
“We entrust our police officers to use certain amounts of force to do their jobs to protect us. They commit a criminal act if they use this force unreasonably. We have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt,” Freeman said.
With charges filed, whether swiftly enough or not, Minnesotans can pray that the unrest and senseless violence in our streets can abate quickly, and attention can shift back to where it belongs: on bigotry, systemic racism, inequities, and more, all issues thrust suddenly into the public spotlight where they long have needed to be.
They can’t be effectively addressed, however, while businesses are being destroyed, convenience store employees are being dragged outside and beaten, the hallowed grounds of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial are being desecrated, journalists are being needlessly arrested, and police officers are launching tear gas and shooting rubber bullets into unruly crowds.
Justice can help lead to solutions. Friday’s charges can be a necessary first step — along with a welcome return to peace and a commitment to be a better Minnesota.