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Floyd case verdict unlikely to induce US police reform

By Harvey Dzodin | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-24 06:53
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The United States, in general, and Minneapolis, in particular, held its collective breath earlier this week-while the jury in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin deliberated-fearing that an acquittal would again set US cities alight because "justice has been denied" many times in the country before.

The jury, however, found Chauvin guilty on all three charges in the murder of George Floyd: second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, but since racism is rampant and police brutality common in the US, and white supremacists are a persistent and lethal threat to the country, there's only a sliver of hope for some genuine, lasting reform.

The George Floyd case is well known. Floyd drew police attention for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill in a shop, and Chauvin, one of the responding police officers, snuffed the life out of Floyd by pressing his knee on the victim's neck and cutting off his oxygen supply in front of a small group of witnesses.

If not for a 17-year-old witness who filmed Floyd's death on her iPhone, the police would likely have presented the facts differently, as they have done in so many cases involving African Americans and other people of color, because the facts had already been distorted in the police report: "He (Floyd) was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers.

Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later."

The sad reality is that in the US only 1 percent of the killings by police from 2013 to 2019 have resulted in criminal charges. Beyond racism and white supremacy, there are several specific reasons for this. It's common knowledge that there is a police blue wall of silence; police won't blow the whistle on fellow officers, no matter how depraved or outrageous their actions are.

Perhaps it's no different from the mafia's vow of silence called omertá.
Also, prosecutors and police officers are too friendly with each other and almost invariably cover for each other rather than serving the people. Equally importantly, police unions are politically very powerful vis-à-vis their public officials and they protect their members, whether they are right or wrong.

How did we, as a country that prides itself on so-called American exceptionalism and claims to be the champion of human rights, reach this sorry state of affairs? The fact is, we have been there for a long time as "we" were and are narrowly defined as white men.

White men as slave-owners. White men as the face of the racial segregation system called "Jim Crow" that began at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. White men as macho-heroes protecting society from "inferior" Africans, "savage" indigenous people and an invading "yellow peril". These white men have been the backbone of American conservative beliefs since before the birth of the nation and have had a political renaissance.

American conservatives believe the government is part of the US' problem, not its solution. As former US president Ronald Reagan said in 1986, the scariest nine words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

American conservatives are responsible for the deaths caused by the estimated 400 million privately owned guns in the US and near daily mass shootings. They've succeeded in giving Americans an almost unrestricted right to bear arms by overturning a two-century-old precedent that confined guns to trained hunters and state militias.

And unlike in China, where survey after survey shows strong continued support for governments at all levels, in the US many "patriots", including those who stormed the Capitol in January, fear that governments at all levels in the US have taken away their rights in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

It's hardly any wonder that, factoring in the endemic racism in the US, police officers reflexively shoot first, and ask questions only after it's too late.

Some hope that the longtime orgy of deaths caused by police will move the needle on police reform. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act could make a difference, but not to the extent required. Rather than de-funding the police force, as activists called for last year after Floyd's death, it's aimed at reforming the police by actually increasing spending and creating national standards.

It's a comprehensive and thoughtful bill that includes a long list of well-funded measures such as money for more and better police training and prohibiting strangleholds such as that killed Floyd.

But despite being passed in the House of Representatives-albeit with no Republican support-it's unlikely to survive in the Senate, except, perhaps in a watered-down form. Due to this hopeless division in the US Congress, President Joe Biden cannot even pass meaningful gun-control legislation even if he wants to. The best he can do through an Executive Order is to put a plaster over a gaping wound.

So despite the Chauvin verdict, there's sadness, as morning in America has been replaced by mourning in America.

The author is a senior fellow at the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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