Mixed feelings regarding the Derek Chauvin verdict. I have zero sympathy for Chauvin himself. The man was a bully (although not a proven racist) who used the badge as a license to abuse others, and his bullying ways finally caught up to him. There is simply no excuse to press someone's face into the pavement for almost ten full minutes, and three or four after they've had it. It's wrong to look the other way on that kind of behavior when it's an uncle kneeling on a slightly mouthy nephew, it's wrong to look the other way when it's a high school football player leaning on a less cool classmate, and it was wrong here. I spent four years disciplining public employees, including cops, and my first question to a cop who did this would have been "what the hell were you thinking?"
Police abusing citizens was wrong when Salvatore Rivieri threw Eric Bush to the ground and berated him for being insufficiently deferential, it was wrong when Lawrence Powell continued to bash Rodney King with a nightstick after he had stopped resisting, it was wrong when Justin Volpe rammed a plunger into Abner Louima's rectum, it was wrong when Charles Langley and Philip Brailsford de facto executed Eric Shaver for not crawling precisely the way they said to, and it was wrong here. None of these situations had to go as far as they did or end the way they did. However, ego, anger, and, in some cases, a tendency toward authoritarianism are a brutal and sometimes lethal combination.
That said, I do not like the fact that it got lost here that this was supposed to be one case, against one person, for one person's death. It wasn't supposed to be a city, a profession, or a race on trial. Criminal cases are called State v. whoever for a reason. I also don't like the fact that due process was questionable. Even a mass murderer is entitled to due process, which means not having politicians line up against him, not being called the face of hate, not dealing with a poisoned jury pool, and not having public officials demand riots and violence if he is not found guilty. Advocacy and enforcement are two different things, and while advocacy can be as hot-blooded as it likes, enforcement needs to be cold-blooded as well as even-handed.
I also don't like the fact that this got capitalized on by people looking to gain power and money from stirring up public anger. I don't like the fact that it branched out into a lot more than the one case it was supposed to be. How you get from a police officer abusing his authority in Minneapolis to an area of Seattle seceding and 100 nights of riots in Portland is something that makes no logical sense.
I'm also concerned about the long-term impact. Policing in the United States is fast becoming a lose-lose proposition and a job fewer and fewer people are going to want. If you take a police action, you are considered a thug, a bully, and automatically a racist. If you take no action, you are either lazy or dead from the neck up and need to be fired. We’ve been over this half a dozen times. Policing is by nature a dangerous and demanding job. Policing by nature sometimes requires split-second decisions which have a tiny margin for error and possibly grievous consequences if gotten wrong. Policing is not just about crossing schoolkids, directing traffic, getting lost children home, making reports of fender benders, and once in a while giving out a ticket to someone driving a little too fast or parked in a place clearly marked “no parking.”
Even in the safest small towns in America there are always going to be domestic violence calls, holdups, drunk and disorderly conduct, kids getting into drugs, or the mentally ill who do crazy things that endanger themselves or others. Like it or not, the majority of policing involves making unwilling individuals comply with lawful orders necessary to KEEP order. Sometimes there is no way to make that happen but to use force. The fact a lot of folks aren't willing to face up to is that using force isn’t pretty.
It’s not pretty to slam a violent husband or boyfriend down on the kitchen table and cuff him before he hits the woman in his life again. It’s not pretty to cuff a drug-addled, emaciated streetwalker who you’ve told to move along for the umpteenth time and been met with a torrent of profanity each time. It’s not pretty to throw a reeking homeless person who’s been harassing shoppers into the back of a police cruiser to take him somewhere where he can (hopefully) get the help he needs. And no, it’s not pretty to arrest some thug who’s spent his whole life doing nothing but commit crimes when he commits yet another one.
It’s also not pretty when a hapless wife or gf gets a broken jaw or a spiral fracture of the arm from a partner who she “just wouldn’t listen to.” It’s not pretty when a family can’t walk down the street without seeing some skeletal prostitute shooting up. It’s not pretty when everyone has to avoid the block that “Crazy Joe” has claimed as his own. It’s not pretty when someone out of prison barely a week sticks up a bodega with a gun or hits somebody over the head because he has no money and few prospects.
Somehow, though, it’s always easier to sympathize with whoever ends up on the receiving end of force or injury, no matter what the circumstances. The same people who would say “Geez, it’s too bad Mr. Kim’s convenience store got robbed and he got beat up, I hope he pulls through,” are the ones who’d say “Geez, was it necessary for those two cops to beat that guy so badly when they broke up the robbery? There’s got to be a better way.” You’re not supposed to say, “that idiot tried to rob Mr. Kim of his hard-earned money, thankfully the police were nearby when he tripped the silent alarm, then he was more of an idiot when he tried to fight the police. He got what was coming to him.”
Somehow also, it’s too easy to sanctify someone who’s been the victim of injury. You’ll hear about “the good kid who wanted to do good,” whose life was cut short in a gang crossfire. However, you’ll also hear about “the bright young kids with their whole lives ahead of them” who got pressed flat because they were shooting romantic pictures using a railroad bridge, and didn’t know that you won’t see or hear an approaching train until it’s almost on top of you. You’ll hear about “the beautiful, wise, good young woman destined for great things,” who’s dead because she just couldn’t bring herself to walk out on the boyfriend who smacked her around whenever he got angry. You will also hear about the “promising young man” killed by a cop during a robbery because he “fell in with the wrong crowd” but was “just about to turn his life around when a police bullet took away that chance.” You’re not supposed to say “what happened to those kids was tragic, and also completely avoidable if they had only used their heads.” You’re not supposed to say, “Diana’s dead because she couldn’t muster up the wisdom or the will to leave someone who was making a punching bag out of her.” You’re not supposed to say, “That guy’s dead because he decided stealing from other folks at gunpoint was easier than working, but this time his luck ran out and the police shot him before he could shoot anyone else.”
Somehow this idea that the victim of violence is always blameless, or at least less to blame, no matter how the violence happened, has taken root in this country, alongside the idea that there are no heroes. When there are no heroes, there are only villains and victims. Guess which one you are if you aren’t the villain?
Every single use of force by the police should not lead to riots. Society can't function if every person charged to uphold the law needs to worry that if he takes action, not only does he take a risk (that comes with the job), but the entire community could end up paying the price if things go sideways. That's a bullying tactic, more appropriate to totalitarianism than a representative republic.
The message being sent here is loud and clear too: Do not police. Do as your moral superiors tell you. If you do not do so, the fate of Minneapolis and Portland and all those other places will befall you. There’s another message being sent too: Do not obey. Do not be good citizens. Resist. No one can touch you now.
So the police don’t pull over that car. At best they are asking for trouble with the brass. At worst, they might get shot themselves, and blamed for their own deaths. The police also don’t investigate that abandoned building with the door torn off. They space out their patrols less often and they don’t patrol certain areas at all, often because they've been asked to do just that. Somehow their responses to assaults, muggings, whatever slow down just enough so that they arrive only in time to take a report, not to break up the assault or stop the mugging. Then they take the report back to the precinct, pass it to the squad, and the detectives file it away as yet another unsolved crime with few or no real leads to follow up on. Maybe they even say something among themselves to the effect of the victims should have used common sense, and not walked home that late, or passed through that area, or whatever, so why bother chasing a few tenuous leads that won’t pan out. Put on a fresh pot of coffee, will you? This one’s been laying for a while.
Before we know it, welcome back to the bad old days of the 1970s, except this time there will be no “morning in America” and no Giuliani types to revive the cities.
Steven Olivo is a state attorney who resides in New Jersey. The article first appeared on Olivo's personal Facebook page. Reprinted by Don McCullen with permission from the author.