21st April 2021
Yesterday a former police officer was convicted of the murder of George Floyd.
The evidence was overwhelming and, to most people who followed the televised trial, compelling.
Indeed, some would aver (in my view, correctly) that the evidence was compelling even before the trial.
But due process is due process, and even those charged with the most vile of crimes are entitled to due process.
And the former police officer received due process, and the former police officer was duly convicted – unanimously.
Until the very last moment the verdict was uncertain.
Anyone watching the verdict being handed down was braced for an acquittal.
Regardless of the starkness of the evidence – and of the weakness of the defence case, even taking it at its highest – it seemed extraordinary that a white former police officer would actually get convicted of the murder of a black person.
And even if the evidence was as twice as compelling, and the defence case twice as weak, one would still realistically expect an acquittal.
For that seems to be the nature of the criminal justice system.
There is here a gap between knowledge and expectation – and this gap is systemic racism.
By ‘systemic’ is meant that the racism is a feature of the system.
It would not matter which white police officer was accused, and which black person was the victim of a wrong, the operation of the system will tend towards certain outcomes.
Black people will tend to be the victims of police violence and there will never be any sanction against those who inflict the violence.
Any fatality will tend to be the subject of misdirection and misinformation by the police to the media.
Seriously, read it again knowing what we know: pic.twitter.com/XqPWCpoxeQ— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) April 20, 2021
Any victim will tend to be disparaged, if not demonised.
Any police violence will tend not to be filmed or similarly documented.
Any accused police officer will tend to be given the benefit of the doubt – and if there is no room for doubt, they will be given the benefit of some excuse.
Any other officers will tend to stay quiet.
Remember: none of Chauvin’s colleagues turned him in. He murdered a man in broad daylight and we are here today because a brave Black girl named Darnella Frazier kept taping despite threats from the cops on the scene.— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) April 20, 2021
Any prosecution will tend not to be brought.
And any prosecution brought will tend to lead to an acquittal.
The reason for each of these swerves away from justice will be different from case to case.
But the overall bias of the system will mean that the gravity pull will be against any conviction.
The solution to this problem is not to dilute due process – but to be open and frank about the factors which will distort the process as a whole.
Indeed, everyone should have the benefit of the strict approach to due process that is accorded to police officers and other privileged defendants.
It is all very good to say there are systemic problems, some will protest, but what about solutions?
There is plenty of sensible and constructive thinking out there about other faults in the system – for example, see these two threads which should be read carefully.
For those who are interested in research-based solutions to stop police violence, here’s what you need to know – based on the facts and data. A thread. (1/x)— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) October 6, 2019
As the Derek Chauvin trial comes to a close, it is important to recognize that accountability for the killing of George Floyd, while necessary, will not have a broad effect on American policing. The circumstances that led to this tragedy will be repeated. 🧵 below— Brian Root (@brian_root) April 20, 2021
A systemic problem needs a systemic approach to the solution.
Picking on any individual element of the system will not be sufficient, as long as other elements still tend towards injustice.
Accepting the importance of a systemic approach – and of the existence of system (or institutional) racism – will be for many an intellectual and emotional pain barrier.
Racism in legal systems is not just about the wrongness of individual acts – but a realisation of the impacts of swarms of wrongful acts which means that – unless there are exceptional circumstances – white police officers will get away with whatever violence they can against black people.
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