The defense strategy employed by Derek Chauvin’s attorneys is neither unique nor interesting. The process didn’t produce any television stunts or rhetorical flourishes. There is no bloody glove, no rhyming couplets. Chauvin’s defense is so fundamental that a lawyer who just graduated from law school could pull it off. His lawyers simply argue that police officers have the right to kill people if they think they need to.
This strategy may seem foolish to the untrained eye. After all, there is undeniable video evidence that Chauvin didn’t “need” George Floyd to kill him. The video reveals that Floyd posed no threat to the police or anyone else: he was vulnerable and handcuffed while Chauvin was slowly choking the life out of him within eight minutes and 46 seconds. Any sane person can see that Chauvin should have taken his knee off Floyd’s neck.
But defense lawyers know that the law does not require Chauvin to act like a human, only that he act like a cop. It does not hold police officers to an objective standard of behavior. Instead, the law allows an individual cop’s own weaknesses – his fears, racial misunderstandings, and even his own hysteria – to define the scope of acceptable behavior by the police officer. If Chauvin’s lawyers were better showmen, they would tell the jury, “If Chauvin could imagine getting hit, you must be acquitted.”
As it is, Chauvin’s attorneys cited the 1989 Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor– so often that you’d think a man named Graham V. Connor had told Chauvin he could get away with murder. In a way, that was exactly the case. Graham v. Connor The application of violence policies to police across the country has been changed to make them more violent and murderous.
To understand how a case authorized brutality, you must understand that our only real constitutional protection from police violence is the fourth amendment’s prohibition on “improper searches and seizures”. “Unreasonable”, of course, has been ill-defined by the rallying of white men who drafted and ratified the constitution and found that things like slavery and genocide were perfectly “reasonable” uses of state power. For most of American history, however, the fourth amendment followed a “reasonable one [white] Man Standard: The actions of the government or its agents were judged by what lens an average person would consider reasonable.
In practice, this allowed for a lot of abuse. Victims of police brutality had to prove that officers were acting “unreasonably” and with malicious intent. As you can imagine, it has always been difficult for victims (or their surviving family members) to prove that they were violently murderous police officers intends to kill her. In front of camera phones, it was almost impossible to get whites to believe the cops were acting as blacks always said they were.