The Chauvin Verdict Was Not A Crack in the Blue Wall- It Was Protecting the Blue Wall
On April 20, at 2:30 pm, people of all races waited for the verdict on the Chauvin trial to be announced. I waited, and around 3:00 the verdict was read.
- Unintentional second-degree murder- guilty.
- Third degree murder- guilty.
- Second-degree manslaughter- guilty.
A police officer being found guilty on all counts is unprecedented. This led the majority of Americans to understand these guilty verdicts as a much needed step towards racial equity; as a sign that the George Floyd protests had created a shift in the public view around racial justice. Large news sources such as NBC and USA Today published pieces titled The ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ is crumbling in the Derek Chauvin trial. Why this case could be a tipping point and Chauvin trial: Blue Wall of Silence crumbling. Police chief, others, bring landmark moment. These media sources described this as a turning point in society, declaring that the Blue Wall of Silence was beginning to erode. The Blue Wall of Silence refers to an informal code of silence among law enforcement officers to protect each other by not reporting a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes.
The Blue Wall of Silence is viewed as key in perpetuating a culture of police misconduct. Thus, having so many law enforcement officers speak out against Chauvin suggests that this unspoken code is beginning to break. Throughout the trial, we saw Chauvin’s colleagues and supervisors speak against him. Terms such as “egregious” and “totally unnecessary” and “murder” were used to describe the way that Chauvin handled the situation. The agency was quick to state that they did not teach nor condone the techniques that Chauvin used.
And yet, is the Blue Wall of Silence actually crumbling? Or is this simply the Blue Wall protecting itself? Throughout the summer it was clear that America saw this situation as tragic and uncalled for. We saw large corporations make statements that Black Lives Matter and we saw millions of social media avatars become small black boxes for “Blackout Tuesday.” It was clear during this summer that the public was outraged- and rightly so. The situation was watched by millions of people, and discussed by people of all ages, races, classes, and creeds. And while there were arguments that Blue Lives Matter, these arguments tended to focus on illustrating that not all police were bad.
Society had very clearly stated that this was a social injustice. In order to maintain itself, the system had to throw Chauvin over the Blue Wall, because otherwise the whole system would have been implicated. If Chauvin wasn’t convicted- people would have questioned the system’s integrity. Fellow officers speaking out against Chauvin’s behavior then strengthens the argument that this officer was BAD.
By putting all of the burden on Chauvin, it moves the public’s attention like a masterfully executed sleight of hand. Implicating Chauvin shifts the conversation from further examining systemic issues within law enforcement, to then hailing officers as “strong and brave” for their willingness to speak out against one of its own who is “bad.” This turns the conversation from one about systemic inequity to one about a “bad apple” and distances the system of law enforcement from him.
As the ACLU and other racial-justice centered organizations have argued in the days after the trial, the verdict is not a demonstration of justice, it is merely demonstrating accountability. To truly know if the system has changed, it is important to ask the “what ifs.” What if 17 year old Darnella Frazier hadn’t taped the incident on her phone? What if there hadn’t been huge protests? What if the news outlets hadn’t needed something else to captivate America’s focus? What if large corporations hadn’t taken a stand?
It is also important to ask the “what wills.” What will the outcome be of the killing of 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot and killed by an officer after she had called police for help the day of the verdict. What will be the outcome of the killing of Daunte Wright, who was shot by an officer only a few miles from where the Chauvin trial was happening, just 9 days before. What will be the outcome of the killing of 42 year old Andrew Brown Jr, who died after police shot him in the back of the head while he had his hands on the steering wheel the day after the verdict? What will be the outcomes of these cases, and cases like these. We must stay vigilant and not simply let the sleight of hand fool us into believing the system has changed- but rather watch to see what that change looks like.
We must also ask the “how wills.” How will officer training change? How will police reform happen? How will accountability look? How will law enforcement develop the cultural competence and relationships to build back trust in communities they have harmed? As we see these injustices happen by the hands of those sworn to protect us, how will we see systemic reforms?
Will we see actual change, or simply throwing officers over the Blue Wall?