'Our American way of policing is on trial': Law enforcement officers respond to Chauvin trial

As he prepares for work each morning, Tighe O’Meara, the police chief in Ashland, Oregon, tunes in to coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged in the killing of George Floyd last year.

O’Meara doesn’t watch to decide whether he thinks Chauvin is guilty; he sees Chauvin’s culpability as “an open-and-shut case.”

He watches for signs of hope for his profession.

He found some in Chauvin’s former colleagues and bosses who broke the so-called blue wall of silence to testify against him. “We need as much of that as possible,” O’Meara said in an interview this week. “We need transparency and integrity above all else.”

But O’Meara, who is white, also sees the trial as a test of whether police can regain the trust of many Americans, most of all the Black and the Latino residents who disproportionately live in high-crime, highly policed neighborhoods.

“If he’s convicted, it will be a strong declaration that we as a society hold police officers to account for their actions,” he said. “If he’s acquitted, it will be an event that takes us in the exact opposite direction.”

When Michael Persley, the police chief in Albany, Georgia, watches the trial, he sees the profession he loves at a crossroads. As a 28-year law enforcement veteran, he says, the trial is a reminder how damaging Floyd’s killing was for policing — and a lesson for his officers to follow use-of-force policies. At the same time, he is a Black man who understands why Floyd’s killing damaged public trust in police.

“It’s hurtful to the law enforcement profession and then it’s a disappointment in my viewpoint from the Black community,” Persley said. “It’s a disappointment to us that that was not a trust-building day.”

Across the country, police officers and commanders, active and retired, are watching Chauvin’s trial with a mix of interest and angst. Their responses, in interviews conducted this week, share some common themes, notably that the trial illustrates how one incident can shift the public conversation about policing.

But the responses also vary. While some officers see the trial as an encouraging example of the criminal justice system holding a rogue officer accountable, others see it as a sign that a growing portion of the country, led by the media, politicians, prosecutors and top commanders, has turned against them.

A woman protests outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is being held, in Minneapolis on March 31, 2021. (Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images)
A woman protests outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is being held, in Minneapolis on March 31, 2021. (Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images)

No one interviewed justified Chauvin’s act of pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. (Chauvin’s defense team has said that Floyd’s underlying health conditions and drug use — not Chauvin’s restraint methods — caused Floyd’s death.) But some officers complained that the trial has not sufficiently examined Chauvin’s frame of mind, or the fear that officers feel while trying to arrest someone who does not want to be taken into custody. Some see Chauvin as doomed for conviction, and said their profession felt doomed as well.

“It’s disheartening to hear the prosecution throw cops under the bus and leave the defense to build them up, which is the opposite of what normally happens,” said a white detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of losing his job. “It sucks.”

A sergeant in the New York City Police Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for the same reason, said he and other officers saw Chauvin’s trial as a reason to think twice before using force against someone who is resisting arrest.

“It has an effect on police officers, no doubt about it, and for some officers it can even affect the way they approach certain situations,” the sergeant, who is white, said. “They may be more hesitant to use force. I’d hate for officers to get killed or injured because they hesitated to use force.”

The trial is unfolding at a time of deep soul-searching among American police officers after a year in which they were tested by the coronavirus, targeted in nationwide protests against police brutality and subjected to calls to limit their power, either by cutting budgets or restricting the tactics they can use. Since the trial began, protests erupted in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, after a white officer shot and killed a Black motorist, and Virginia authorities announced an investigation of a December roadside stop in which officers threatened and pepper sprayed a Black Army officer.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. on March 30, 2021. (Pool via NBC News)
Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. on March 30, 2021. (Pool via NBC News)

Officers say they feel exhausted and disillusioned by what they see as a lack of support from the public.

Many departments report a wave of resignations and retirements, and a difficulty in recruiting new officers. A National Police Foundation report on the Los Angeles Police Department’s response to last year’s protests, released this week and titled “A Crisis of Trust,” includes a section on officer morale, which it says is “at an all-time low.”

Cedric Alexander, the former public safety director in DeKalb County, Georgia, and the former police chief of Rochester, New York, said it has been relatively easy for law enforcement officials to condemn Chauvin’s actions because it is “a pretty straightforward case of abuse.” That is a good thing, he said.

But Alexander, who is Black, questioned whether police leaders can be just as “objective” in cases of officers killing Black people that aren’t as clear-cut.

“We’ve got to be just as objective when these shootings of unarmed citizens occur, when incidents occur that are not as straightforward as the Chauvin case,” Alexander said. “We’ve got to have the same courage to call that wrong too.”

Jake VerHalen, a sergeant who oversees patrol officers with the Folsom Police Department in California and is president of the local officers union, has been following the trial daily, and said it seemed to have been conducted fairly. He called Chauvin’s actions “indefensible,” although he said it remained unclear to him whether they caused Floyd’s death.

But VerHalen, who is white, said he is frustrated that the trial has become entwined with a larger narrative that policing is systemically racist, and that any negative encounter between a white officer and Black person is driven by racial animus.

The vast majority of police are not racist, he said.

“A lot of people have their minds made up that this was a racial injustice. Not a bad cop doing a bad thing but a racial injustice, harkening back to the ’50s and ’60s and police unleashing dogs on people,” VerHalen said. “We are so much better than that, and have come so much further than that.”

While many police departments have enacted reforms aimed at making enforcement more equitable and transparent, disparities persist. For example, Black Americans are arrested at higher rates than white people and are more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by police. Black adults are five times as likely as whites to say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Image: Murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters)
Image: Murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters)

Lynda Williams, a former deputy director of the Secret Service and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the Chauvin trial must be viewed as part of a long history of police using their power against Black and brown people disproportionately. The trial can play a part in helping the country, and policing, finally come to terms with that and spur reform, she said.

“This is almost like our American way of policing is on trial,” she said.

Lou Dekmar, the police chief in LaGrange, Georgia, said the Chauvin trial has illustrated the importance of police and elected leaders improving the training and supervision of officers and holding accountable those who violate department policies or use excessive force.

“I hope it’s a wakeup call for police leaders who don’t follow this stuff,” Dekmar, who is white, said. “I hope it’s a wakeup call that agencies that hold officers accountable in the long run are saving officers’ careers. That’s what I hope the message of this trial is.”

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House Panel Approves Bill To Study Slavery Reparations

“We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said.

A House committee on Wednesday advanced an effort to create a commission that could consider how to provide Black Americans with reparations for slavery.

The bill is commonly known as H.R. 40 and was first introduced in 1989 by former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), referring to the Civil War promise to provide newly freed slaves with “40 acres and a mule.” That pledge was never fulfilled and was later rescinded by the U.S. government.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 to advance the legislation, with all Republicans objecting.

“Here we are today, marking up for the first time in the history of the United States of America any legislation that deals directly with the years and centuries of slavery of African American people who are now the descendants of those Africans,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the bill’s new sponsor since Conyers’ retirement in 2017, said Wednesday. “We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through.”

If passed, the bill would establish a 13-member commission to study the lasting effects of slavery and racial discrimination, and later prhttps://www.theopinionpoll.comesent “appropriate remedies” to Congress. It’s unclear what those remedies would look like, who would qualify for them or if they would have any financial value.

The bill would also include considerations for a “national apology on behalf of the people of the United States for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”

Despite Wednesday’s vote, the legislation still faces a steep climb to become law. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would consider bringing the bill to a floor vote, but it may take time, according to The Washington Post.

The case for reparations has long been a fraught political issue, and most Republicans and some Democrats remain firmly opposed to it.

“Look, everyone knows how evil slavery was, wrong as wrong can be,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday. “But this is not something we should be passing.”

President Joe Biden has pledged to address the nation’s long history of racial inequality during his administration, and his recent, $1.9 trillion stimulus package included tens of billions of dollars in aid that advocates said would dramatically help low-income Americans and communities of color.

“We understand that we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in February. “So he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”

The bill comes at yet another inflection point for the country amid the Minneapolis trial of a white former police officer in the death last year of George Floyd, a Black man; and following the shooting death earlier this week of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop in Minnesota. The white police officer who shot Wright has been charged with manslaughter

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Maryland Enacts Historic Police Reforms, Overriding Governor’s Vetoes

Crime scene police tape

Despite GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s attempts to block the measures, Maryland has become the first U.S. state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

Maryland on Saturday became the first state in the nation to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights after the state’s Democratic-majority legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of three historic police accountability bills. 

Hogan announced Friday that he was vetoing the three bills — part of a package of five police reform measures passed by state lawmakers earlier in the week. The governor said he would allow two of the bills to become law without his signature but said the others would “further erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence.”

But Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate, vowed to override Hogan’s vetoes — a promise they promptly fulfilled, with lawmakers gathering Friday night and Saturday to make it happen.

One of Hogan’s vetoes had been for a bill repealing and replacing the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), which governs the disciplinary process for police officers. Critics have labeled LEOBR an “impediment” to police accountability. A new procedure to discipline officers found guilty of wrongdoing — one that will involve the input of the police departments and civilians — will now replace the bill of rights. Currently, at least 20 states have versions of a police officers’ bill of rights.

The bills enacted Saturday include several other police accountability measures, such as a statewide use-of-force policy, an expansion of public access to some police disciplinary records, harsher penalties for cases involving excessive use of force, new limits on no-knock warrants and a statewide body-camera mandate.

Additionally, the two pieces of legislation Hogan chose not to veto include one that gives Baltimore voters the opportunity to decide whether the city should take full control of the Baltimore Police Department, which has been a state agency since 1860.

The other bill allowed by Hogan prohibits police departments from acquiring surplus military equipment and creates an independent unit in the state attorney general’s office to investigate deaths involving police.

Democratic lawmakers in Maryland ― a state that’s faced scrutiny in recent years for its police accountability issues ― hailed the set of police reforms as “transformative” and a step toward “equality.”  

Bill Ferguson, president of the state Senate, called it “one of the most significant and transformative packages of reform of law enforcement in the country, and certainly, what matters more, in the history of Maryland,” The Washington Post reported

On Friday, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) pushed back against the assertion made by some Republican lawmakers that the bills are “anti-cop.”

“This is not anti-police legislation. This is equality and fairness legislation,” Atterbeary said, adding: “This was painstakingly put together for Black and brown folks in our state. It’s time for police officers who don’t follow the proper law to pay the consequences.” 

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Tishaura Jones elected St Louis’s first black female mayor

The Associated Press
Jones, who is currently the city treasurer, said: ‘we’ve begun breaking down the historic racial barriers’ in the city

Tishaura Jones has been elected as the next mayor of St Louis, Missouri, making history as the first Black woman to hold the city’s top position.

“This campaign can unequivocally say that we’ve begun breaking down the historic racial barriers and the racial divides that exist, and have existed for generations in our city,” Jones said on Tuesday night, adding that she “will not stay silent” in the face of “any injustice”.

“As a city, we’ve been surviving. We’ve suffered disinvestments, decades of violence, broken promises from our city’s leaders, who have bowed to the will of special interests and insider dealings,” she said. “It’s time for St Louis to thrive.”

Jones, who currently holds the position of treasurer in St Louis, defeated Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who conceded the race on Tuesday night. The final vote tally between the two women was Jones with 52% against Spencer with 48%.

Jones told St Louis Public Radio it felt amazing to win. “I’m ready to get to work and usher in St Louis’s new era,” she said.

In her concession speech, Spencer praised Jones and spotlighted the historic nature of the election result.

“This is something we should all celebrate,” Spencer said. “Our city broke a glass ceiling tonight, a ceiling that shouldn’t have been there.”

Spencer also promised, while surrounded by supporters at her watch party outside the Mahler Ballroom, to work with Jones to help solve city issues.

“I’m proud to be a citizen of St Louis tonight,” Spencer said. “The treasurer was my opponent but she is not my enemy. The people of St Louis have spoken, and I pledge my support to Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones to move our city forward.”

Others, including the Democratic National Committee chair, Jaime Harrison, chimed in to congratulate Jones on her win, calling it a “great & historic achievement” on Twitter.

There is considerable work to be done in the way of governing the midwestern city of 300,000 residents known as the “gateway of the west”, and eyes will be on Jones as she sets about tackling problems.

The city remains in a struggle to regain its economic footing, particularly after the shutdowns caused by Covid-19.

It’s a considerable challenge in a city that has lost more than 556,000 residents since 1950, when population peaked. The St Louis economy has been historically tied to industrial manufacturing and is famous for being the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch. It ranks 13th among US cities with concentrations of Fortune 500 companies.

While new industries such as healthcare biotechnology are emerging, average hourly wages have lagged behind those of the broader US. According to 2019 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, St Louis residents earn 84 cents less across industries than the national average.

That includes cooks, who earn almost $1 less than what they average nationwide, and are particularly vulnerable as downtown restaurants try to reopen and get back to normal operations.

Violence, particularly killings, also remains a critical problem. According to police statistics, 262 people were killed in St Louis last year, at a per-capita rate 30% higher than any year going back to 1950. So far in 2021, 46 killings had been recorded through 6 April, exceeding the high pace of 2020 by 10 deaths.

As a candidate, Jones’s platform included spurring small business innovation, driving sustainable and equitable investment in the local economy, and unification efforts between communities and St Louis police.

“Our city stands at a crossroads. Every day, we are haunted by the ghosts of our past, by centuries-old problems, and every day, it seems like we attempt the same tired solutions. Today I am asking you to dream bigger,” Jones says on her campaign website.

There appears to be momentum for Black women to be given power to create such changes. Last year in Ferguson, Missouri, just 10 miles from St Louis, Etta Jones was elected as the first Black and first female mayor.

In a statement on her campaign site, Jones said confronting St Louis’s “extraordinary challenges” with enthusiasm, optimism and grace, would present opportunity. She has pledged to recruit more counselors for substance abuse and mental health, as well as social workers.

Jones also was highly critical of law enforcement tactics in the city as a candidate.

“St Louis, this is an opportunity for us to rise,” she said in her victory speech. “I told you when I was running that we are done avoiding tough conversations. We are done ignoring the racism that has held our city and our region back.”

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MASTER P’S SON HERCY MILLER COMMITS TO PLAYING BASKETBALL AT AN HBCU

Master P’s Son Hercy Miller Commits To Playing Basketball At An HBCU

He’s carrying on the legacy!

Master P’s son Hercy Miller just committed to playing basketball at HBCU Tennessee State University, the Tennessean reports.

A senior at Minnehaha Academy, the 6-foot-3 guard has been ringing bells since he stepped on the court. His father, hip hop mogul and entrepreneur, Percy “Master P” Miller played with the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors in the preseason during the 1990s. His older brother Romeo also played two seasons of basketball at USC and the family has spent a lot of time in Nashville for music and during his sons’ tenure in the AAU basketball league. The younger Miller had received offers from Vanderbilt, LSU, UCLA, USC, Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona and Georgetown. His commitment to attend an HBCU, Tennessee State, took the world by storm.

“I want to be a leader and a dream of mine and a goal of mine is to change the narrative. I want to show people you don’t have to go to one of these big schools, Power Five conference schools, just to be great. There are a lot of great people who came out of HBCUs or mid-major schools. I want to be the next one,” Hercy told reporters during a press conference.

Hercy had narrowed his choices down between Vanderbilt and TSU, choosing to go with the latter primarily due to the persistence of TSU coach Brian Collins. Both son and father said they were impressed with Collins’ and his tenacity. 

Master P echoed his son’s sentiments, saying, “I had never seen a coach with that much confidence. Coach Collins was like, ‘We want you to come here and I was like, ‘Coach, for real? Do you know all the big schools that are offering us?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I looked at that. But they’re nothing like Tennessee State.’ I felt a realness in him and his staff. He wants a winning program and he wants to change how people think about Tennessee State and we’re going to do that.”

For some years, the conversation about college athletes making the shift to attend HBCU’s has been recurring. Former ESPN host Jemele Hill wrote an article in 2019 about why Black athletes need to attend predominantly Black universities. That next year in July 2020, five-star athlete Makur Maker made history as the highest ranked college basketball prospect to commit to an HBCU, announcing his decision to attend Howard University. This past October, NBA superstar Chris Paul, who had been using his platform to raise awareness and money for HBCUsannounced his decision to enroll at Winston-Salem State University, citing the fact that he was the only person in his family who didn’t an attend an HBCU, which was something he intended to fix. Recently, there have also been reports circulating that Master P intends to purchase his own HBCU

Master P told reporters that regardless of his own stance, the decision on which college to attend was ultimately left up to his son. 

“He had a lot of big schools on the table - Vanderbilt, LSU, USC, UCLA - and I said, ‘Son, this is all your decision; you’ve got to live with whatever you do. We’ve been in and out of Nashville before and everybody thought he was going to pick Vanderbilt. When he told (TSU) coach Penny (Brian Collins), ‘This is where I want to go,’ it was a surprise to all of us. I think this is bigger than just going to a school and bigger than basketball. What Hercy is doing is going to change the game and I think a lot of great players are going to want to go to HBCUs,” he said.

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