By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – The Woodland Daily Democrat captured some local reaction to the Chauvin trial and decision, including that of Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig. Like most in his statement to the paper, Jeff Reisig thought it was the right decision. But I was struck by his secondary comment.
Jeff Reisig said: “(It was) the absolute right result. It was such a horrific depraved heart crime. In my mind, there was never any other option than a conviction for murder. Other than that, this reminds me that, while our system in the United States isn’t perfect, the criminal justice system, it is the best in the world and it does work, I’m grateful that it did this situation.”
Reisig has increasingly attempted to cast himself as a reformer of sorts. What is interesting though is that many reformers either believe the system is “broken” or increasingly believe it is intentionally constructed to disproportionately punish people of color.
But Reisig’s comment belies that he believes that our system “does work” and “it is the best in the world.”
Whereas the overwhelming response I saw from reformers after Tuesday’s verdict is that the system worked this time, but that justice is rare and the system needs to be fixed.
As Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution put it, “the fact that there was ever a doubt about conviction in the face of overwhelming evidence is a sad indictment of our criminal legal system. Nor does the outcome in this case in any way diminish the urgent need for systemic change to policing in America.”
While Reisig called the system the best in the world, Krinsky noted that, while police have killed around 1000 people each year, only “seven officers have been convicted of murder in police shootings since 2005.” Moreover, “At least 64 people, half of them people of color, have been killed by the police since the start of this trial. Accountability in a single case—while critical—is not enough to address this epidemic of lives lost, and reform around the edges also is not enough to do so; we must transform and reimagine how we create public safety.”
She used the moment to call for “broad, structural reforms now” which include “alternative non-police first responders and a smaller footprint generally for policing; national and uniform use of force standards that respect the dignity of all human life; the demilitarization of police and policing departments; accountability mechanisms that reject union-negotiated protections that enable those who have no right to wear the badge and carry a gun to remain on the job; and an end to the deadly and failed ‘tough on crime’ war on drugs that has decimated communities of color.”
The difference in the mindset is stark—Reisig used the moment to celebrate the system, Krinsky used the moment to call for reform.
Governor Newsom, no hard core reformer, said in a statement, “The hard truth is that, if George Floyd looked like me, he’d still be alive today. No conviction can repair the harm done to George Floyd and his family, but today’s verdict provides some accountability as we work to root out the racial injustice that haunts our society. We must continue the work of fighting systemic racism and excessive use of force.”
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin noted, “The verdict against Derek Chauvin does not remedy the long history of impunity for police who commit crimes in the United States.
“There remains a tremendous amount of work to do as a nation to hold police accountable. But accountability is only the end of the story,” said District Attorney Boudin. “As the recent killing of Daunte Wright reminds us, our country and our city over-rely on police to respond to incidents that do not require the assistance of armed officers—often with tragic results. We must reimagine policing in our city and in our nation and ensure that we prioritize our limited resources to promoting public safety through public health, housing, and health care.”
Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner also called the decision the right one and said, “Now we must do our job and fight for transformational changes to policing and for increased accountability for officers who break the law. There is no time to rest.”
LA District Attorney George Gascón said, “I will continue to advocate for better training for officers, stronger accountability in use-of-force cases and an independent review of officer-involved shootings. Effective policing must be fair and just to enhance our collective safety. We must continue to work together to build a justice system that promotes equal access to justice for all.”
San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju pointed out: “George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight, on film, before multiple people imploring Chauvin to stop, while fellow police officers stood by and watched. It will take much more than this conviction to end police violence against communities of color.”
Even President Biden recognized that we have to go further. While applauding the verdict, he said, “Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare. For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors: a brave young woman with a smartphone camera; a crowd that was traumatized — traumatized witnesses; a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for, ultimately, the whole world to see; officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended; a jury who heard the evidence, carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure.”
The fact of the matter is that last June, Jeff Reisig was offended when Public Defender Tracie Olson dared to point out that the Yolo County Jail is disproportionately filled with Blacks. The verdict was his opportunity to call for systemic change, and instead he used it as a moment to declare that we have the best system in the world and say that the system works.
The truth is that the system doesn’t work and, when it does work, as President Biden pointed out, it takes an extraordinary confluence of events to pull it off.
As Biden said, “For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver a just—just basic accountability.”
Exactly. That’s exactly why Reisig’s comment not only misses the mark, but, for so many, it is like a slap in the face.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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