On April 20, 2021, former police officer Derek Chauvin, was found guilty on three homicide counts for the high-profile killing of George Floyd, in Minneapolis.
We’ve all seen the video.
Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, depriving him of his ability to breathe and tragically cutting his life short. There is no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind that Chauvin committed murder.
And all over suspicion of a counterfeit $20 bill.
Around the country, people justifiably celebrated Chauvin’s conviction as a rare example of a police officer facing consequences for his racist and violent abuse of power. But the protests that swept the country last summer in response to Floyd’s killing called for more than just a police officer to be put in jail– they called for real systemic reform, and the defunding of America’s police.
Jacqui Ford is an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney who also litigates civil rights cases on behalf of her clients. Read on for her analysis of what Derek Chauvin’s conviction means for the future of police misconduct cases in Oklahoma and the country at large.
Police misconduct cases
At Jacqui Ford Law, we are committed to defending the people of Oklahoma from the abuses of those in power– whether they’re overzealous prosecutors or violent police officers.
Most often, we use 42 U.S. Code § 1983, a federal statute that protects Americans’ civil rights, to sue the government and force them to comply with the law. These lawsuits are usually referred to as “1983” claims, and can fight against a number of different government wrongs:
- Police brutality
- Racial profiling
- Abuses of power
- Government agencies depriving citizens of their rights
1983 cases against police officers and departments are notoriously difficult to win. The odds aren’t stacked in the police officer’s favor quite as much as they might be in a criminal case, like Derek Chauvin’s trial. But still, the legal system is just not built to hold police officers accountable for their actions.
Derek Chauvin’s conviction and police reform
At first glance, a high-profile conviction like Chauvin’s may seem like a step in the right direction that will make it easier in the future to prosecute or file suit against violent police officers.
But the reality is that we’ve been here before. From Jason Van Dyke’s 2018 conviction for the murder of Laquan McDonald, to Amber Guyger’s 2019 conviction for the murder of Botham Jean, the legal system has demonstrated that it is occasionally willing to allow police officers to go to jail when there is enough public outcry around the case.
But these convictions don’t change the procedural or legal biases that make it so difficult to hold the police accountable in civil court, as we have seen time and time again at Jacqui Ford Law. And they don’t do anything to alter the systemic racism and oppression that leads to murders like these in the first place.
So, the effects of Chauvin’s conviction are a bit of a mixed bag. While it may give a lot of people a sense of relief and justice, it doesn’t make our job of defending our clients’ civil rights any easier. And what it certainly won’t do is bring back George Floyd.
How you can help the struggle for justice
I personally feel very passionate about this issue. I fiercely defend my clients’ rights in the courtroom, but outside of the courtroom, I like to think of myself as a lawyer ally to the movement for justice.
A lawyer ally is someone who uses their legal training to support those who are fighting for systemic change. We do this by observing protests and defending protesters’ right to free speech in court, as well as drawing on our legal knowledge to inform policy changes and reforms that can help bring about justice.
For years, activists and protesters have been calling for broad, systemic changes to the policing and incarceration in the United States. These are the only reforms that can actually prevent people like George Floyd from being killed in the future. Here are just a few examples:
- Demilitarizing police forces by taking away officers’ lethal weapons
- Cutting police budgets and reallocating that money to underfunded social services that can help reduce crime in the first place
- Granting elected civilian oversight boards the power to hire, fire, and set police budgets
- Decriminalizing drug use and ending the disastrous “war on drugs”
- Eliminating “law-and-order” policies such as mandatory minimums and the death penalty
If you want to be an ally to this movement, whether you’re a lawyer or not, you can show up to a protest, donate to a mutual aid fund, talk to your representative, and advocate for these changes in your communities.
Sending Derek Chauvin to jail may provide some closure for George Floyd’s family, but it can never provide closure for Floyd himself. What we can do, though, is make sure that police don’t have the opportunity and power to kill people in the future, and make sure that civil rights attorneys like me can hold them accountable when they violate people’s rights.
Contact Jacqui Ford today
If you’re an attorney interested in becoming a “lawyer ally,” Jacqui Ford Law can help. The National Lawyers Guild has chapters around the country, and our team would be more than happy to talk to you about what you can do to support this fight.
Our advocacy extends into the courtroom, as well. If you’ve been the victim of police misconduct, or if your civil rights are being violated in some other way, contact us to schedule a free consultation and talk about your case.