Even when police officers are convicted of killing, it is rarely on murder charges. Instead, 31 of those 35 convictions were for lesser charges, including manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless discharge of a firearm. Those charges generally carry more lenient sentences than a murder conviction.
Even jurors who aren’t enthusiastically pro-law enforcement may vote not to convict because of cops’ broad legal authority to kill. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court established that police officers are allowed to use deadly force if they believe their life or the lives of others are in danger — even if evidence shows that there was never any threat.
This standard can make prosecutors, who rely on cops to gather evidence, hesitant to move forward with a case that could complicate their professional relationships and is unlikely to succeed. And even if a prosecutor wants to pursue a case, they can face resistance getting evidence from the police, who often prioritize protecting their own.
Given the way Chauvin killed Floyd, he could not make a convincing argument that he used force because he believed he was in imminent danger. Rather than making a split-second decision to fire his gun, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while Floyd was unarmed and handcuffed, physically incapable of posing a threat.
During that time, Floyd told Chauvin he couldn’t breathe and cried out for his “Mama.” In videos, Chauvin appears calm while restraining Floyd, even as witnesses warned that Floyd had stopped moving and pleaded with the cops to get off of him.
Both the Hennepin County medical examiner and doctors retained by Floyd’s family to conduct a private autopsy concluded the manner of his death was homicide. The county described the cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” and the private autopsy found the cause of death was mechanical asphyxia.
Even after it became clear that Floyd was unresponsive, Chauvin made no effort to save his life. Instead, he continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Derek Smith, the paramedic who took Floyd to the hospital, testified at trial that Chauvin was still pressing down on Floyd’s neck as Smith checked for a pulse and was unable to detect one. The police officer didn’t let up even when Floyd appeared to be dead.
“This is not an anti-police prosecution, it’s a pro-police prosecution,” prosecutor Steven Schleicher said in his closing remarks. But Chauvin’s behavior was not unusual. The white police officer acted as if his job empowered him to exert any level of force over a Black man until he submitted completely, even if it resulted in the man’s death.
This content was originally published here.