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What Chauvin Conviction May Mean To The Future Of Policing


A jury's conviction this week of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, in the murder of George Floyd was met with tears, cheers and much relief in many places. What may it represent in the future for policing, for prosecutions of police officers and the arc of history? Stephen L. Carter joins us. He is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the author of books on history, politics, law, religion and popular culture. Stephen, thanks so much for being with us.

STEPHEN CARTER: Scott, it's always a pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: What do you think this verdict represents?

CARTER: Well, maybe it represents some progress. I have to say that like a lot of people, I'm not so much cheering as feeling a sense of relief because when the jury is out in a case like this, if you're Black in America or if you care about people of color in America, there's always that sense that something is going to not go right. And it did. It doesn't - it's a small piece of justice. It's far from the end of the road. But it does at least point to the optimistic possibility of taking things in a better direction going forward.

SIMON: I'm sure you've run this through your mind. Could it have conceivably gone very differently if there hadn't been that excruciating video?

CARTER: It might well have gone different. We have a long history of seeing it go different. You know, to be Black in America, whatever your party is, whatever your beliefs are, whatever your walk of life may be, is to be haunted by thousands of thousands of ghosts of people who have died for being who they are and what color they are. And I think that's why you see these cries of agony and pain when something like this happens so publicly because there's a sense that things like this have happened for a very long time, but for a very long time, there was little accountability.

And I want to say the jury verdict is important, but I think if we actually want to change the incentives, what's even more important is the tort suit. Those municipalities and counties and state governments have to actually pony up money like the $27 million settlement with the Floyd family. That is - creates an enormous incentive for governments to do a better job of training and selecting and perhaps even disciplining officers because at some point they just can't afford to keep paying the money.

SIMON: I wondered if the trial of Chauvin wasn't - was it serving a deterrent effect even then as people waited for the verdict?

CARTER: I wonder - you know, it's so strange. One of the shootings, the one right near Minneapolis, I gather that the officer in question said that she meant to reach for her taser and accidentally drew her gun. What's interesting is there are some data that suggest that police officers - and I want to emphasize; I'm not one who condemns the police. I think the police are important and, for the most part, do a wonderful job. But there are some data that suggest that police officers actually are more stressed when dealing with Black suspects than with dealing with white suspects. And if that's true, that's an artifact, obviously, of a structure of racism, but it's also an artifact of poor training. And so I think that one of the things we need to think about going forward are to actually spend more on training. It's not so much whether the police have too much money or too little. It may be how it's allocated.

SIMON: I wonder what other ideas you've heard that you find appealing.

CARTER: People have talked, for example, about perhaps making it easier to discipline officers, easier to reassign them, even, which sometimes the union rules make very hard. But whatever ideas we adopt - and we should have a serious conversation about this - I don't want us to lose sight of something that's really, really important which is that brutality at the hands of the police is a piece of the brutality that Black people suffer in America, but it's not all of the brutality. There's so many different ways, whether you look at disparities in health care or education or a variety of other things, that brutalization at the hands of so many different forces that I think leads to the outcries and the anger and, of course, the enormous demonstrations as well.

SIMON: Stephen Carter, professor at Yale Law School, thank you so much for being with us.

CARTER: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.