I haven’t read much commentary on yesterday’s verdict yet. I’m assuming that I’ll have more observations later in the day.
1. Ultimately, it appears that the jury just decided that it wasn’t worth it to acquit Derek Chauvin even if there was reasonable doubt. That’s sad, but the calculation can be defended on utilitarian grounds, meaning that, ironically, the arguably unethical decision to discard the law, individual rights, a fair trial and the integrity of the justice system might have been an ethical decision because it will cause less harm in the long and short run. In other words, it can be defended as a decision in which ethics won and the law lost.
I’m not saying that I would defend it that way, but I acknowledge the argument as respectable.
2. It is important to remember that cases where verdicts were based on emotion, human nature, and sociopolitical dynamics rather than the evidence and strict adherence to the law have occurred periodically, and will continue to do so.
The Nuremberg Trials were travesties from a legal standpoint, and the verdicts “ethical” only in the sense that a formal, solemn statement that some conduct is so heinous that civilization has an obligation to reject it was deemed more important than such niceties as avoiding hypocrisy or respecting the law’s aversion to ex-post facto legal penalties. The trial of the alleged conspirators to murder Lincoln was as rigged as a trial can be. This isn’t an “it happens all the time” excuse for the Chauvin trial, but a reminder that the Chauvin case isn’t the cataclysmic scar on the justice system that many will claim it is.
3. The closest comparison to the Chauvin verdict may be the O.J. Simpson trial, which was a reverse Chauvin. Race had nothing to do with the facts of that case, but the clever defense team, aided by a bungling and out-gunned prosecution, made the trial narrative about racial payback, punishing a racist cop, and metaphorically poking a distrusted police department in the eye. The jury also didn’t want to be responsible for re-igniting the Rodney King riots. How could you blame them?
4. The pressure on this jury was worse, thanks to the news media’s open lobbying for a guilty verdict, the national scope of the previous rioting, and disgustingly, the comments of public officials, including members of Congress and the President of the United States. The speed with which the jurors came to a unanimous verdict also matches the O.J. trial.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there weren’t any deliberations or discussions among the jurors at all. In some of his escape artist appearances, Harry Houdini would immediately shed his shackles, strait jacket or whatever he had been bound with the second he was behind a screen, and sit reading a newspaper until he decided enough time had gone by to make his escape look difficult. Having been on a jury, I know that the paper work you have to complete after the verdict takes a surprising amount of time. They wanted to get out of there so nobody would burn their houses down or hurt their families.
5. The key difference between the O.J. verdict and this one is that a not guilty verdict can’t be appealed. This one will be, and then the question will be whether an appeals court has more integrity and courage than twelve jurors living in a riot-scarred city. This was not a far trial, and Chauvin should get a new one. If he can’t get a fair trial, then he should go free.
6. There was no one on this jury to play Henry Fonda’s “Juror 8” in “Twelve Angry Men.” That’s just chance, of course. I wonder if Juror 8 would have made his stand on behalf of the almost certainly guilty defendant in the movie if he knew that the result of a “not guilty” verdict or a mistrial would be deadly riots.
On the one jury I served on (as foreman), I flipped the verdict. The rest of the jury didn’t understand the judge’s instructions, and I had to explain what standards they had to apply. Would I have had the fortitude to be the lone hold-out to deadlock the Chauvin jury on the grounds that he should not be convicted without a fair trial, which had been made impossible by the rioters and the media?
It’s easy to say I would have, and I hope I would have, but I don’t know.
7. I assume we will hear and read a lot about how the verdict “sent a message.” What message?
That police departments shouldn’t continue to employ mean and sadistic bullies like Derek Chauvin? That it is reasonable to assume that any cop who harms a black citizen is a racist? That the justice system can be manipulated by politicians, activists, mobs and riots? That when someone looks like they are struggling to breathe, you probably should take your knee off his neck? That by becoming a police officer, you accept the reality that a drugged out perp who resists arrest can ruin your life if you don’t react correctly, so you should just let him go, especially if he’s black?
That the public doesn’t understand or care about due process, “innocent until proven guilty,” reasonable doubt or a fair trial, and that politicians and the news media are quite happy to keep it that way?
8. I considered calling this post, “Stop Making Me Defend Derek Chauvin!” There was no way for him to predict it, but the officer’s metaphorical cruelty to a black man tore the country apart, cost millions in property and taxpayer expense, and gave the upper hand to anti-police activists and anti-white racists. I find it impossible to feel sorry for him.
9. Maybe the best message this verdict can send is that having broken ethics alarms isn’t just wrong and anti-social, it’s dangerous.
Someone–parents, schools, our culture— should have taught Derek Chauvin that a long time ago.