Xavier professor speaks to the need for systemic change
By Joseph Cotton, Education & Enrichment Coordinator
Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts for the murder of George Floyd on Wednesday. He was convicted for two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the second degree. He is facing up to 40 years in prison and his sentencing hearing is set for mid-June.
“We’ve developed the mindset in this country that you can’t hold police accountable because if you do so, you are anti-police,” Floyd family attorney Chris Stewart said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a badge or a regular job, you have to be held accountable.”
According to Xavier’s senior criminal justice professor Ronald Springman, the verdict will likely have a major impact on how police misconduct is handled in the justice system. At the same time, Springman also fears that Chauvin will be a mere sacrificial lamb whose trial will pass without long-term systemic changes.
“(The verdict) might be a good start but there is still a lot more work to do. There is a long way to go to root out systemic racism,” Springman said. “I hope the trial can serve as a turning point where police departments start to rethink their mission and approach.”
Springman also noted that police departments are starting to investigate methods of de-escalation and community policing. He believes that it is important for police departments and officers to have a stake in the community.
“I tell my students all the time that if you want to be a police officer to be the good guy who goes out and gets the bad guy, you’re not thinking about it in the right way. Policing is a helping profession,” Springman said. “Even when you have to arrest someone, you have to remember that you are serving the community you are working in.”
“Keith Ellison, the attorney general overseeing the Floyd case, told the media that he was cautiously waiting until the verdict was read aloud,” Springman added. “Even though it looked obvious, in only 35% of police shootings cases has there been any accountability.”
According to Springman, one of the major breakthroughs in the case was when other police officers testified that Chauvin acted outside of his training. Springman explained that it is very rare for police officers to testify in police misconduct trials.
“This verdict will likely make it easier for prosecutors to bring charges against police officers who use excessive force,” Springman noted. “The police work closely with prosecutors so there has always been a reluctance to bring charges against them.”
In terms of specific institutional reforms that can be made to improve policing, Springman stated that limiting the power of claims of self-defense are important to ensuring that police officers are held accountable.
“When a police officer claims self defense, there is much more power in that compared to if we were to make the same claim in a criminal trial,” he said.