After Chauvin Verdict, Time to Get to Work
April 22, 2021 – On Tuesday April 20, the country braced for the impact of the verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. If we’re being completely honest, the country – and especially the African American community – had significant doubts the jury would return a guilty verdict, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by prosecutors.
In the hour leading up to the announcement, people and images dominated my thoughts – Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks and, most recently, Daunte Wright.
With the deaths of these black Americans and many others as historical context, I took a stoic stand and held my breath as the verdict was read. Former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin has been convicted of unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
As Chauvin was remanded in custody and taken away in handcuffs, it was clear that there were no “winners” here. Mr. Floyd is still dead and the violent encounters experienced by black Americans continue at an extremely disproportionate rate. The result is far from real justice, but what we have as a country is a moment of responsibility – and perhaps an opportunity to begin real reform at the system level.
The final report of the Presidential Task Force on Police in the 21st Century, released in May 2015 under the leadership of President Barack Obama, recommended major policy changes at the federal level and developed key pillars to promote effective crime reduction while by building public confidence. Based on this report, four takeaways are relevant to any discussion of police reform.
All are vitally important, but two are particularly relevant in the wake of the verdict. One of the main recommendations was to “adopt a guardian – rather than warrior mindset” in an effort to build trust and legitimacy. Another was to ensure that “the Peace and Standards Officer Training Boards (POST) include mandatory crisis response training”.
As healthcare professionals, we know that the ultimate effectiveness of any intervention relies on the level of shared trust and collaboration.
As a consultation-liaison psychiatrist, I am trained to recognize that when asked to consult about the case, I often do not make a medical diagnosis or perform an intervention; I help the team and the patient to rebuild trust in each other.
Communication skills and techniques help start a dialogue, but without confidence you will ultimately fail at shared understanding. The foundation of trust could begin with a commitment to procedural justice.
Procedural justice, as described in The Justice Collaboratory of Yale Law School, “speaks to the idea of fair processes and how people’s perceptions of fairness are strongly influenced by the quality of their experiences.” There are four central principles of procedural justice:
- If they were treated with dignity and respect
- That they had the floor
- Was the decision maker neutral and transparent?
- Did the decision maker convey trustworthy motives?
These principles have been studied and shown to improve confidence in the police and lay the groundwork for creating a standard set of shared interests and values.
As healthcare professionals there are many aspects of procedural justice that we can and should adopt, particularly when it comes to our own life with the use of restraints in medical settings.
In addition to recommendations from the federal government and independent institutions, national health policy organizations have made clear statements about police brutality and systemic reform.
In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association released a position statement on police brutality and black men. In 2020, this was followed by a joint statement by the National Medical Association and the APA condemning systemic racism and police violence against black Americans.
Other health policy associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges, have also condemned systemic racism and police brutality.
In the aftermath of the Chauvin verdict, we saw something new and different. In our partisan country, there was uniform common ground. Statements were made to recognize the importance of this historic moment, on the part of the police unions, the two political parties and various grassroots organizations involved.
In short, we can have real agreement and real motivation to take the next difficult steps of police reform for this country. There will be political discussions and new training mandates, and certainly a push to ban the use of restraints and lethal techniques, like strangling. While useful, these will ultimately be insufficient if we do not hold ourselves accountable for real culture change.
The challenge of implementing procedural justice should not simply be a challenge of law enforcement and should not fall on the shoulders of communities with high crime rates. In other words, no racial group should own it. Ultimately, procedural justice must be embraced by all of us.
The road is long and change is slow, but I am optimistic.
As I looked at the verdict, my oldest daughter looked with me, and she asked, “What do you think, daddy? I replied, “It is a responsibility and an opportunity.” She nodded determinedly. She then grabbed her smartphone and jumped on social media and proclaimed in her very knowledgeable teenage voice: “Seeing daddy, one voice is cool, but multiple voices in unison is better; he’s time to get to work! “
To Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old girl who captured George Floyd’s murder on video, and to all of your generation who dare to hold us accountable, I salute you. Thank you for making us look even when it was painful and not ignore the humanity of our neighbor.
It is indeed time to get to work.
Dr Norris is Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Administration at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
The opinions expressed in this material are solely those of the author and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have any questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This commentary is intended for informational purposes only.
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