Derek Chauvin: Guilty on all counts

The verdict, and the responses.
Isaac Saul Apr 21, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 9 minutes.

We’re taking a look at the responses to the Derek Chauvin verdict. Plus, a reader question about the filibuster.

Derek Chauvin listens as the guilty verdicts are read in his trial.

Reader feedback.

Responding to yesterday’s newsletter, Michael from Burnett, Texas, said he was “annoyed” about some inflammatory language. “In today's letter on the Derek Chauvin trial you stated, ‘Exhibit A: someone died because they allegedly passed a fake $20 bill…’ You draw a straight line from a particular circumstance of the incident to the unacceptable conclusion of the incident. In none of these cases is there a causal relation between the circumstance and the death. You can quote no party that asserts the argument that you negate (i.e. ‘George Floyd tried to pass a counterfeit 20 which justifies excessive force’). Yet it makes for a righteously indignant, inflammatory argument that sets up your case.”


Quick hits.

  1. President Biden will propose a climate change plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  2. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is exploring another run for president in 2024. (Axios)
  3. Columbus, Ohio police fatally shot a 16-year-old girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, just hours before the Derek Chauvin verdict was read. At a press conference, police showed body camera footage of the girl lunging toward someone with a knife before the officer shot her. Details of this story are still emerging. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  4. The Justice Department says it will be launching an investigation into Minneapolis police practices. (NBC News)
  5. Democratic lawmakers are urging Joe Biden to use the reconciliation process — requiring just 50 votes in the Senate — to push through immigration reforms that would legalize some undocumented immigrants. (CBS News)

What D.C. is talking about.

The verdict. Yesterday, Tangle covered the closing arguments of the Derek Chauvin trial. We noted that the deliberation process could take “days or even weeks.” Instead, the jury announced it had reached a verdict in just 10 hours: guilty on all three counts. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The second-degree murder charge carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, and third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. But Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for identical presumptive prison terms for both counts, starting at 12½ years for someone with no criminal history.

The conviction comes nearly a year after then 17-year-old Darnella Frazier released a video of the arrest, which went viral and set off a summer of civil unrest in response to police violence across the United States. Floyd’s family had previously won a $27 million civil case settlement with the City of Minneapolis. Chauvin is expected to appeal, and the three other officers involved in the arrest will stand trial for lesser charges in August.

Today, we’ll take a look at some reactions to the verdict. If you want to read coverage of the details of the case, you can read yesterday’s newsletter.


What the right is saying.

The right was split on the verdict. Some questioned whether the jurors were influenced by public pressure, while others said the ruling proved the justice system works.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said “the jury and justice system performed better than political critics predicted or behaved themselves as they condoned violent protests and demanded a guilty verdict from afar.”

“It would be nice to think all of this would prompt reflection among those who have exploited Floyd’s killing for political purposes,” the board wrote. “But it probably won’t. Even after the verdict, commentators who applauded the jury gave last year’s riots in American cities the credit for inspiring it. Not the facts. Not the law. But lawless protests. If a large faction of Americans really believe that only mayhem in the streets can guarantee justice in America, then this verdict will mean little and we are in for far more unrest ahead.”

In The Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer said “the judicial system worked. It usually does.”

“It won't bring George Floyd back, or eliminate all bad policing, but police are now on notice,” he wrote. “And good cops still vastly outnumber bad ones. It's time to refine and reform the policing system, not tear it down. Next will come the trials of the other three officers. I hope juries will make careful distinctions. The rookie (fourth day on job) who asked if Chauvin should lay off and check the pulse is clearly not as guilty of anything as serious. But there still appeared to be, at least, negligence by all. It will take careful parsing to determine the appropriate verdicts and punishments.”

In The Federalist, Joy Pullmann wrote that “there’s no way Americans can trust the jury’s Chauvin verdict.”

“We know the judge in the case refused to sequester jurors from media coverage and outside influences during the trial, and that the pressure conveyed to them was beyond intense,” she said. “It was made perfectly clear to them that the nation would be engulfed in flames if they expressed they did in fact have a reasonable doubt over whether Floyd’s death was Chauvin’s fault… You can’t tell me all of this didn’t affect jurors’ psyche and ultimate decision. They would be superhuman or inhuman if it didn’t.”

“A fair trial might indeed have come to the same conclusion for Chauvin,” she added. “But we’ll never know, and never be able to trust this outcome, because America’s left purposefully made a fair trial impossible, all for political power.”


What the left is saying.

The left celebrated the verdict but cautioned that much more was needed in order to prevent something similar from happening again.

In The Nation, Elie Mystal said the verdict represents “an absolute minimum of justice.”

“All it took to get that conviction was: nearly 10 uninterrupted minutes of video documenting the murder in broad daylight; a victim who was already handcuffed and prone at the time of his murder; months of nationwide protests; years of organizing by Black activists; a narrative that rose above the noise of a pandemic; a Democratic state attorney general; a prosecutor willing to indict; a nationally televised trial that ran for three weeks; multiple cops testifying against one of their own; and largely incontrovertible testimony from medical experts,” he wrote.

The problem of policing, he added, is not intractable. “It can be addressed constitutionally—by overturning cases that allow the cops to ignore the Fourth Amendment. It can be addressed legislatively—by passing laws that change the police use-of-force guidelines and setting up independent third parties to investigate and prosecute problem officers, perhaps before brutal police graduate to homicidal police. It can be addressed politically—by voting for mayors who aren’t in the pocket of police unions and by showing up to vote for local district attorneys who promise to treat police brutality like any other crime. It can be addressed with funding—by defunding and demilitarizing the police and funding non-police personnel to handle mental health crises and traffic duty. It can be addressed through the media—by demanding coverage that doesn’t simply parrot police reports and narratives that distort and harm real lives. It can be addressed in people’s hearts—by the simple act of believing Black people when we tell you what’s happening to us.”

The editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune said the verdict must change America.

“The ongoing reckoning has focused not only on policing but also on racial inequality in housing, education, business, sports and the arts,” it wrote. “More than ever, Americans are stepping up to view work, service and other aspects of their daily lives through the popularly dubbed ‘equity lens’ and challenging our systems to be more inclusive and more just.

“Reliving what happened last May through Chauvin's trial helped humanize Floyd and, by extension, others who have made mistakes in their lives, including those struggling with drug addiction and chemical dependency,” it added. “Americans with drug problems or previous run-ins with the law too often receive unequal treatment in our courts. That needs to change.”

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson said that Chauvin’s victory shouldn’t feel like a victory — but it does.

“Perhaps the most important societal milestone marked in this trial is that the jury apparently gave no credence to the attempt by Chauvin’s defense to justify how he treated Floyd because of Floyd’s race,” Robinson wrote. “Defense attorney Eric Nelson didn’t mention race explicitly, of course. He used coded language that he hoped the jurors would understand. Floyd’s arrest took place in a ‘high crime’ area, he said. The horrified onlookers who watched as Floyd died were a raucous ‘crowd’ that needed to be controlled. The fact that the muscular Floyd was intoxicated gave him ‘superhuman’ strength. That is how Black men have been stigmatized for 400 years, as powerful and angry and criminal — and needing to be brought to heel, to be dominated if necessary.”


My take.

I’m just relieved. I said yesterday that I would be shocked if the manslaughter charge didn’t get a conviction and that it “didn’t take a lot of imagination” to see the potential for convictions on the murder charges, too. When I heard that the jury already had its verdict yesterday afternoon, like most people who follow these cases, I knew Chauvin was going to be guilty on all three counts. There were no questions passed to the judge, no lengthy period of silence indicating a divided jury, just a decisive deliverance of the ruling after less than 10 hours of deliberation.

What was remarkable about this trial and important to keep in mind is the role citizens played in bringing it about. An ideologically and racially diverse 12-person jury came to a unanimous conclusion after weeks of video, scientific, medical and witness testimony. There was no doubt and no hesitation. But most of it was made possible by the videos posted online from onlookers who literally filmed a murder happening and were able to testify to as much under oath.

For decades, before the advent of body cameras and cell phone footage, we relied on the testimony of police against the people they interacted with. Often, we relied on the testimony of police against someone with previous interactions with cops or a criminal record. In the case of George Floyd, it’s an important question to ask: who would the public have believed had we not had that cell phone footage? Floyd’s family and the 17-year-old who filmed it, or four police officers?

In a way, we don’t have to imagine. The initial report from the Minneapolis Police Department on the incident was instructive:

Image

This is not the description of a cop murdering a suspect — which is what a jury unanimously agreed is what they saw, thanks to the cell phone and body camera footage. An untold number of these kinds of interactions happen without the type of evidence presented in this case even available. The outcome, and the discrepancy between the evidence and the claims of the officers involved, are a good reminder that body cameras (when they are on) and citizens filming these interactions can make a substantive difference. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than the alternative.

America is a great, big, diverse, broken, imperfect, combustible and fundamentally fluid place. The country is changing, every day, by design. Democracy and freedom and the rights we are promised by the Constitution do not create a static nation — they give the citizenry opportunities to change the law, the expectations, the societal guardrails of what is acceptable and expected and what is not. I’m seldom happy to see another person put inside our overcrowded prisons, and I dream of a future where we no longer need them, but today is a day where the change was felt — even if just for a moment. And it feels like a change that was fundamentally good and just. For that, I’m grateful — and relieved.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Can the filibuster be brought back if it's removed? The option to remove it from Supreme Court nominations seems like there are a ton of options for Democrats to try out that aren't removing it entirely. But if they did, assuming Republicans won back the majority in the Senate in 2022, couldn't they just reinstate it?

— Bryan, Washington, D.C.

Tangle: Theoretically, yes. If Democrats abolished or reformed the filibuster and then Republicans took control of the Senate, they could undo or reverse those changes.

But why would they? The catch with abolishing the filibuster — as we’ve seen with federal justices and Cabinet nominees — is that there’s no earthly reason to undo it when you’re in power. Republicans griped about removing the filibuster on federal Cabinet nominees and federal court judges when Democrat Harry Reid made those changes, but of course, when they came into power, they then used them to their advantage.

The same would be true here, too. If Democrats abolished the legislative filibuster, there’s no reason Republicans would use their power to reinstate it. They’d just run with the fact they could then pass whatever they wanted with only 50 votes and the vice president in the White House. That’s why it’s understood that any reforms of the filibuster are very likely to remain permanent.


A story that matters.

The USDA has announced that it plans to extend universal free lunches through the 2021-2022 school year. That means more than 12 million school children who experience food insecurity will have at least one guaranteed meal a day. The USDA had previously said the waivers for children would extend through September 30th, before announcing the extension. These programs were developed during the coronavirus pandemic to allow kids to eat for free even outside of normal meal times. (The Washington Post, subscription)


Numbers.

  • 133.3 million. The number of Americans who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 86.2 million. The number of Americans who are fully vaccinated.
  • 71%. The percentage of Black voters who said the only fair outcome is for Derek Chauvin to be convicted of the murder of George Floyd.
  • 7%. The percentage of voters overall who said the best outcome would be for Chauvin to be found not guilty of all charges.
  • 54%. The percentage of voters who said they were at least somewhat confident that a jury would find Chauvin guilty of any of the charges he faced.

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Have a nice day.

A Georgia business owner who saw a thief breaking into his restaurant on surveillance cameras took a unique approach to the situation: instead of calling the police, he went on social media and offered the man a job. Carl Wallace, the co-founder of Diablo’s Southwest Grill in Augusta, Georgia, said he had to spend $1,000 fixing the door the burglar broke in through. But when he took to Facebook to post about the incident, he sent this message: “To the would be robber who is clearly struggling with life decisions or having money issues... please swing by for [a] job application. There are better opportunities out there than this path you’ve chosen,” Wallace wrote. He pledged to NBC29 and in the Facebook post there would be no police involved, and he hoped he could give the man a job. “Let’s stop. Let’s fix this. Let’s do something different and give this guy an opportunity,” Wallace said. (NBC29)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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