When a Minneapolis jury returned a guilty verdict on all three charges against former police officer Derek Chauvin for killing Mr. George Floyd, most of America breathed a sigh of relief. The senseless murder of Floyd at the hands of police last year resulted in protests and riots worldwide calling for justice.
Although Chauvin was the defendant in the courtroom, in many people’s minds, America’s justice system was on trial, too. The law enforcement community universally condemned the officer’s actions involved in Floyd’s death that day.
Still, without a conviction, the rhetoric would mean very little to the community, especially Black people. George Floyd’s murder was one time the cops weren’t exempt from the law; there was no qualified immunity. But what does it mean for the future of police reform?
CNN host Chris Cuomo, brother of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said that police reform wouldn’t happen until “white people’s kids start getting killed” after a string of police shootings of people of color. Cuomo’s comments will find receptive ears with many Black folks because that’s precisely what they already believe; whether Cuomo’s assertions prove to be true remains to be seen.
Fayetteville criminal defense attorney Antonio F. Gerald, an African American, was cautiously optimistic. He said: “The verdict is a step in the right direction. It shows that you will be held accountable if you break the law, no matter your position in society. However, a lot more must be done to build trust in the communities that our police serve.”
I interviewed former Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock, and he indicated that police and sheriff’s deputies have to understand the gravity of their decisions. Referring to the murder of George Floyd, he said: “Chauvin’s actions cast a negative light on about 8,000 other cops. In most instances like this, two people lose their jobs, the chief and the officer accused of the wrongdoing. But policing needs a culture change as well, and for that to happen, command staff are going to have to be held accountable, too.”
Medlock, a successful reformer, drew national praise during his tenure in Fayetteville. He is now serving as a consultant and advisor for several organizations.
Policy changes eyed at national, state level
U.S. Representative Karen Bass, from California, immediate past president of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The legislation aims to combat police misconduct, excessive force and racial bias in policing.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House but has yet to be voted upon by the Senate. After Chauvin’s guilty verdict, President Joe Biden spoke to Floyd’s family and told them he would “continue to fight” to pass the bill that bears Floyd’s name.
N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore responded to Floyd’s murder last year by appointing a bipartisan Select Committee on Law Enforcement, Justice, and Community Relations. So far, because of the committee, four house bills and one senate bill have been filed.
State Rep. John Szoka, a member of the Cumberland County delegation, who co-chaired the committee, said: “I’m proud to be sponsoring bills that accomplish two objectives. First, to mandate that officers intervene if they see other officers taking actions inappropriate to the situation. And secondly, legislation focused on keeping “bad actors” out of law enforcement and on keeping them from job-hopping from one department to another.”
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West was also a committee representative. He said: “The House Select Committee made numerous recommendations to the North Carolina General Assembly. Some of these recommendations are in House Bills 436, 536, 547, and 548 and Senate Bill 300. The district attorneys of this state support these recommendations and legislation, as they are a first step to improving our justice system and improving the trust our communities have in their law enforcement.”
West is the immediate past president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys and President-elect of the National District Attorney’s Association.
Dr. Darl H. Champion Sr., professor emeritus of Justice Studies at Methodist University, said policing needs to re-examine its policy, practices and procedures to ensure they are reasonable, practical and justified when used in encounters with citizens.
For the supporters of police reform, it’s been like the late soul singer Sam Cooke’s lyrics in his hit song: “It’s been a long time coming, but change is gonna come.”
Troy Williams is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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