Will the Chauvin trial lead to a change in U.S. law enforcement?
Dennis Etler

Editor's note: Dennis Etler is a current affairs commentator who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught at college and university level for over 35 years. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The final verdict in the George Floyd murder case has been rendered and Derek Chauvin, the police officer who was accused of killing him while the world looked on, has been found guilty on all counts. 

But, how many George Floyds were needed to finally get a modicum of justice? In this day and age, when bystanders can record in real time what they witness in cold blood, it is no longer possible to whitewash the brutal crimes committed by U.S. law enforcement personnel against Blacks and other people of color.

The racist underpinnings of the U.S. law enforcement establishment emerged from vigilante slave patrols tasked to capture runaway slaves. Black slaves as chattel property were disposed of at will. The lives of slaves were subject to the whim of their owners and this attitude that denigrated Black lives became ingrained in the psyche of many White Americans.

Its contemporary manifestation is seen in the nearly daily list of casualties inflicted on African-Americans by unwarranted police violence, frequently resulting in unjustifiable murders.

These violent encounters have been happening for generations and have become a fixture of American life. But, the offenders under the protection of their badge and "qualified immunity," which exempted them from most prosecutions, allowed cops to act with impunity without fear of legal liability or other repercussions.

A woman rearranges a sign at a memorial at the site of the arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the U.S., June 14, 2020. /Reuters

A woman rearranges a sign at a memorial at the site of the arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the U.S., June 14, 2020. /Reuters

When abuses of power become too rampant and blatant, however, the political establishment has to respond in some fashion or lose what little credibility it still retains. Thus a culprit such as Derek Chauvin whose crime was seen by millions became a sacrificial lamb. 

Although he deserved the verdict meted out, there is no question that under other circumstances his actions would have been covered up and he would have walked away to brutalize other victims in due course. That has been the history of law enforcement in the U.S. from its inception.

Even while the trial of Chauvin proceeded, there were multiple instances of police shootings and killings of unarmed Black people, caught while driving or simply pursuing normal, non-violent activities.

U.S. politicians express outrage at what transpired in the George Floyd case, but they've had years to address the issues involved and have done nothing to alleviate them. It is thus the height of hypocrisy for them to all of a sudden become vocal proponents of Black Lives Matter. Didn't they matter when millions of Black men were incarcerated on trumped-up drug charges or when police terrorized Black communities with racial profiling and stop and frisk laws?

Where were the suddenly woke politicians for all the years that Black people have suffered racial segregation and discrimination? Progress was only made when their feet were held to the fire by mass protests, but once the heat of the moment subsided it was business as usual and many of the gains made were slowly eroded such that the more things changed the more they stayed the same.

Will the Chauvin trial and guilty verdict really lead to a change in the culture and practice of law enforcement in the U.S.? Will the deep-seated racism that permeates all American institutions finally be ameliorated? The history of U.S. human rights abuses by American cops and the inability of the American political process to make real, substantive and lasting changes does not bode well for the future.

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