Day 6

Testimony against Derek Chauvin exposed a crack in the 'blue wall,' but experts say it must come down

Testimony condemning the actions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd have been described by some as a falling — or at least cracking — of the "blue wall of silence," an informal code that stops police from reporting their colleagues' misconduct and errors.

'It is expected of us to do what is right,' says member of ethical policing organization

A man gestures on a bench while awaiting the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis on April 20. Chauvin was convicted on charges of murder and manslaughter by a jury. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Shanette Hall hopes more police officers will follow the lead of Derek Chauvin's former colleagues, who testified against him in a two-week-long trial, and speak up when they witness misconduct.

"That's definitely a good thing. However, if we get a little bit deeper into it, I'm not sure if we should congratulate those officers," Hall, a police officer and second vice-president of the Ethical Society of Police, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"I say that because this is something that should have been expected."

Testimony condemning the actions of Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd have been described by some as a falling — or at least cracking — of the "blue wall of silence," an informal code that stops police from reporting their colleagues' misconduct and errors.

The so-called blue wall is a well-established concept in policing, according to Kate Levine, an associate professor of law at Cardozo School of Law in New York.

"There's just tremendous organizational solidarity within police departments, which means they protect each other and it means they lie for each other," she said.

"There's a phrase called 'testilying,' which was invented to describe police lying on the stand, police committing perjury."

Chauvin listens as the verdict is read by the judge at the end of his trial in the May 2020 death of George Floyd, at the Hennepin County courthouse in Minneapolis on April 20. The former officer will be sentenced in about eight weeks. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Although Hall, whose organization was founded with the goal of fighting racial discrimination in both policing and communities, recognizes the blue wall exists, she argues that those working in law enforcement should hold — and be held to — the highest levels of integrity in any profession.

"It is expected of us to do what is right," she said.

Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, whom he pinned to the ground, with his knee on the Black man's neck for more than nine minutes.

While the verdict and police testimony are a step in the right direction, Hall says, it doesn't yet suggest systemic change among policing in the United States.

"I agree with that sentiment of this being just a showcase of accountability," she said.

"By no means should we take the verdict that we received a couple of days ago as the system being repaired or the system now working for everyone."

WATCH | Can the conviction of Derek Chauvin spark police reform?:

Can Derek Chauvin’s conviction spark police reform?

2 years ago
Duration 4:28
Former police officer Joe Ested talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about whether Derek Chauvin’s conviction for George Floyd’s murder can spark police reform in the U.S. and what changes need to happen.

Junior members urged to speak up

The decision came following 10 hours of deliberation by the jury and a two-week long trial that included testimony from Chauvin's former colleagues, including high-ranking members of the police force.

Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo reacted to video captured during Floyd's arrest, saying on the stand that Chauvin's actions were "in no way, shape or form" in line with department policy or training.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of the police department's homicide unit, testified, "If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill him."

But with much of the negative testimony against Chauvin delivered by senior-level members of the department, it's unlikely the blue wall has fallen, says William Hall, adjunct professor of political science at Webster, Washington and Maryville universities. (There is no relation between William Hall and Shanette Hall.)

"To me, the blue wall will fall — or reflect a demise — when more of the rank-and-file officers similarly agree to call out one of their own when they see criminal action," he said.

A sign reading 'Guilty' rests next to a candle at Carl Schurz Park after Chauvin was convicted of murder, in New York City on April 20. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Hall, a former mediator for the U.S. Department of Justice working on police brutality cases, argues that senior members of the force had a "vested interest" in Chauvin being prosecuted and that more junior members must begin to speak up against misconduct.

He points to the fact that three of Chauvin's former police colleagues — who have each been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder — did not intervene while Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the ground.

The "rank-and-file officers, who could have, any time, pulled him off," Hall said. "The man was in handcuffs. He was on the ground. He was clearly in distress."

Culture issue

Those rank-and-file officers are often protected by police unions and associations. Chauvin's lawyers were funded by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, a standard practice for the organization, which represents more than 10,000 officers in the state. 

But that kind of support, Shanette Hall says, can be damaging.

"That is something that is harmful to the relationships — the already fragile relationships — that exist between law enforcement and marginalized communities," she said.

"That does not lead towards increasing police legitimacy — what so many people say that they strive to achieve within our police departments."

Speaking to Minnesota's KARE-TV 11, Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said: "We can't pick and choose which cases we're going to defend or not defend."

Following Chauvin's conviction, the Department of Justice announced a federal investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department in order to determine whether it has a pattern of "unconstitutional or unlawful policing."

WATCH | Minneapolis Police Department faces federal investigation:

Minneapolis police department faces federal investigation after Chauvin conviction

2 years ago
Duration 2:54
A day after the conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, the entire Minneapolis police department is under a federal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice will look to determine if it suffers from a pattern of ‘unconstitutional or unlawful policing.’

That's welcome news to William Hall, who argues the department faces issues that run far deeper than Chauvin.

"Any organization has a culture, a pattern and practice, and I think that arguably what his actions did was reflect the culture," he said.

In a statement posted to Twitter following Chauvin's conviction, Arradondo, the Minneapolis police chief, said the department has a "commitment and an obligation to serve our community and keep our citizens safe."

"Every day and every night we will strive to do our very best to earn your trust."

Data needed to measure 'how messed up we are'

In order to move beyond this verdict and change how police interact with marginalized communities, processes need to change, Shanette Hall says.

That means better collection of data across the country on police misconduct and how use of force disproportionately affects racialized communities.

"Until we can begin to measure — truly measure — how messed up we are, then we can't put the other measuring points in place to see our progress," she said.

As she awaits Chauvin's sentencing, which is expected in about eight weeks, Hall says the verdict highlights the need to do more.

"The verdict itself is not what is going to advance us forward; seeing how Mr. Floyd was murdered on the street is what advances us forward."

Written by Jason Vermes with files from The Associated Press, CBC News and Pedro Sanchez. Interview with Shanette Hall produced by Sameer Chhabra.

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