It’s past time for everyone to decide what justice really means in America. Do liberals still believe in impartial justice under the law? Do they believe everyone should have their day in court? Do they think a defendant is innocent until proven guilty? Their reaction to the verdict is unclear, saying only that it’s not enough.
Let me preface this post by stating the obvious: I am not a lawyer, nor am I an expert on local police procedures. Like everyone else, I saw the video and was appalled. Unlike a lot of everyone else, I also noted that George Floyd had a lethal amount of fentanyl in his system and that there was more to encounter than the video itself. This doesn’t mean he deserved to die or that Chauvin wasn’t guilty. I mention it because, as is usually the case, the situation is more complex than the video and that’s precisely why we have a justice system, lawyers on both sides, judges, and juries.
It’s their job to weigh the facts of the case in a fair manner and reach a verdict. Therefore, Derek Chauvin had his day in court and the jury convicted him on even the most severe charge, first degree murder. Assuming there are no surprises in the appeals process, he will spend the rest of his life in jail. In addition, his colleagues at the scene are due in their own court cases later this year. Everyone involved in the incident has been charged to the fullest extent possible and it’s up to the legal system to render justice. I don’t think anyone believes the legal system is perfect, but the only other alternative is either trial by the mob or by fiat.
Unfortunately, even after receiving the verdict President Joe Biden himself prayed for, Maxine Waters demanded, and protestors gathered to support, progressives almost immediately put a negative spin on everything, including the entire country. Their complaints generally come in two forms. The first is that the legal system is fundamentally flawed, perhaps beyond repair. Yes, it might have gotten this particular case right, but it gets so many wrong, one case doesn’t mean anything. The second, not mutually exclusive from the first, is that the legal system on its own isn’t enough, far more radical and progressive policies are needed to achieve justice.
Issac Bailey, quoted by CNN, sums up the flawed legal system concept. After stating he was pleased with the verdict, he continued “But I’m not in a celebratory mood — because it took overwhelming evidence to convict a police officer, evidence so clear even his former boss and colleagues testified against him. There won’t always be that much evidence. The video won’t be so clear and gut-wrenching, even though the harm being perpetrated might be just as devastating next time. I haven’t forgotten about Daunte Wright or that no cop has been charged with killing Breonna Taylor or that bad cops are still protected by qualified immunity and a blue wall that remains all too silent.”
I find it difficult to determine what, precisely, Mr. Bailey is advocating here. A person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty and the standard to arrive at a guilty verdict is necessarily high. Reasonable doubt is not an easy bar to clear, nor should it be as our justice system is biased towards the innocent. It should not be surprising that “overwhelming” evidence is required or that there are often cases where there isn’t enough evidence to convict.
Is Mr. Bailey recommended changing the system to guilty until proven innocent and putting the burden of proof on the defendant? Of course, he doesn’t say, but it’s difficult to read his opinion otherwise. In addition, the officer involved in the Daunte Wright shooting was promptly charged with manslaughter and the Breonna Taylor case was investigated, ad infinitum. Again, we should not be surprised that not every tragedy results in a criminal charge. Finally, he appears to be advocating some unspecified change to qualified immunity, certainly a reasonable topic for discussion even as the rest of his criticism seems vague and unconvincing.
The extreme of Mr. Bailey’s position was stated clearly by Ibram X. Kendi prior to the verdict. Writing for The Atlantic, Mr. Kendi believes the justice system is beyond repair. Oddly, he at least partially arrives at this decision by quoting lawyers and union officials for the defense. First, he quotes the defendant’s lawyer in the Daunte Wright case, insisting their own defendant is innocent. Then he references Chauvin’s attorney, “Black and brown people are told in endless ways by fraternal orders of police and their powerful enablers: Comply and survive. The defense attorney for Chauvin has said this in countless ways during Chauvin’s trial, and will likely say it again during his closing statement today: Floyd would have survived if he had complied.”
He’s equally incensed that police unions protect their own. “Daunte Wright, if he would have just complied. He was told he was under arrest,” said Brian Peters, the executive director of Minnesota’s largest police union. “He set off a chain of events that unfortunately led to his death.” Of course, Mr. Kendi is free to dispute the truth of these claims, but advocating on behalf of their members and clients is what unions and lawyers do. It’s their job and their role in this process.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how else it would be. Are the defendant’s own lawyers and union representatives supposed to advocate for their client to be convicted? Of course, one wonders if they would say the same about the trial of a black man for a non-police related crime. Would they advocate loosening the same restrictions to potentially put more black people behind bars? Or how about the teacher’s unions that have steadfastly refused to open schools to the detriment of their students, especially lower income, minority students?
Ultimately, we either have to agree that people have their day in court or they do not. If they do, they have lawyers that advocate on their behalf and those that advocate for their guilt. How else would it work? Both Mr. Bailey and Mr. Kendi seemed to be calling for some unspecified, radical reimagining of our justice system, something far beyond changes to immunity or the use of special prosecutors in police killings, though they don’t come out and say it.
In addition, both authors see this as primarily as a black versus white issue. Mr. Kendi concludes, “For Black and brown people, this is the terror of American policing. When we do not comply, we die like Daunte Wright did. When we do comply, we die like Adam Toledo did.” Yesterday, he went even one step further, telling CBS News, “So now what? Chauvin is headed to jail, but is America headed to justice. Is justice convicting a police officer, or is justice convicting America? When tens of millions of Americans after Floyd’s murder last year took to the streets of nearly every American town, we were convicting America.”
None other than President Joe Biden took the racial tact as well when commenting on the verdict on Tuesday night. “This systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul. The knee on the neck of justice for black Americans, profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that black and brown Americans experience every single day.” He continued to describe the fear of police, hoping “that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life. They don’t have to worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after [a] grocery store run, or just walking down the street or driving a car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home.”
Alas, despite endless repetition in the media, little attention is paid as to whether statements like this are objectively true, or if these fears are justified. Putting this another way: Is systematic racism, the police literally hating black Americans so much that they intentionally kill them, really the driving force around the violence? Are there other explanations? And what is the scale of the problem anyway?
For starters, the data itself tells a much murkier story: Since 2015, there have been 135 unarmed black people killed by police (as of January this year), around 55 of the officers involved were charged. All told, black people account for about 23% of those shot and killed by the police and more whites were actually killed over the same period. To be sure, blacks represent only 13% of the population, meaning they are killed by police at a higher rate than one would expect. At the same time, there are other factors: Blacks are also over-represented in the poverty rate by about the same amount, implying that there are likely economic issues at play, as much if not more so than racial issues.
It’s no secret that poverty generally equates to more crime which requires more policing which causes more interactions with police resulting in more deaths.
John McWhorter is an African American professor of linguistics who regularly comments on the subject of race and police. Writing on Substack last week, he believes we must accept that “cops kill white people as easily as they kill black people.” In fact, “Cops unjustifiably kill white people all the time and in greater numbers than they kill black people” and the “database reveals a serious problem with cops and murder, period, quite race-neutrally.” Regarding the racial angle, Mr. McWhorter writes, “Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by cops, and exactly 2.5 times more likely to be poor, and data shows that poverty makes you more likely to encounter the cops, as even intuition confirms. This is why somewhat more black people are killed by cops than what our proportion in the population would predict.”
This point of view, however, does nothing to advance the progressive narrative or political agenda, leading us to the second reaction to the Chauvin verdict: The only way to fundamentally solve the problem is to pursue radical progressive policies. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took exactly this tact immediately after the verdict was announced, claiming the guilty verdict “was not justice.” She continued, “I don’t even think we call it full accountability because there are multiple officers that were there, it wasn’t just Derek Chauvin. And I also don’t want this moment to be framed as the system working because it’s not working. That’s what creates a lot of complexity in this moment.”
Even if we set aside that the Congresswoman from New York is seemingly unaware Chauvin’s colleagues will be in court later this year, where is she going with this? What is the complexity she refers to? What is justice to her? Why is the system not working?
Because it’s not progressive enough, of course! She continued, “Justice is Adam Toledo getting tucked in by his mom tonight. Justice is when you’re pulled over, there not being a gun that’s part of that interaction because you have a headlight out. Justice is your school system not having or being part of a school-to-prison pipeline. Justice is a municipality and a government that does not, because it trickles down right, that does not value military and armaments more than it values healthcare and education and housing.”
In other words, justice is no longer having your day in court. Justice is no longer blind. Justice isn’t even about the justice system. It’s about “healthcare and education and housing.” Meaning, all justice to progressives is now social justice. Lest there be any mistake about that, she also tweeted that “this verdict is no substitute for policy change.”
It’s also worth noting that progressives in general have a very warped perception of how the George Floyd tragedy unfolded. For example, AOC claimed “that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice.” This is patently untrue: The video of Floyd’s murder went viral immediately. It was national news for days, and roundly condemned by people on both the right and the left. Then the riots broke out, cities burned, people died, and politics interfered.
A more accurate reading would be that progressives saw a political opportunity and jumped on the bandwagon because, feel free to call me a cynic, this is all simply power politics. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that many progressives wanted Chauvin to be found innocent, feeling that a not guilty verdict would add fuel to the fire. I understand that sounds counterintuitive, but how else can you explain why a guilty verdict was absolutely essential prior to the announcement, followed immediately by claims that the verdict is meaningless anyway?
Regardless, it’s difficult to see where we really go from here when verdicts in emotionally charged, high profile, racially tinged court cases no longer matter. Personally, I think it’s past time for progressives to start saying what they really mean. Do they believe in impartial justice under the law? Do they believe everyone should have their day in court? Do they think a defendant is innocent until proven guilty? Do they accept any responsibility for any of these incidents given that all of the cities are run completely by progressives, often minorities?
I sure hope so, because I certainly know what I believe: The foundations of American jurisprudence are the strongest, fairest in the world. No system is perfect, however, and I’m open to debating any necessary reforms. What I’m not open to is the continual smear that the system itself or the country itself is somehow to blame. No country in the known universe has shed more blood, fought harder, and done more in the name of racial equality.
We either accept that reality or we don’t. Unfortunately, their reality seems to be that America itself should be convicted.