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Will The Conviction Of Derek Chauvin Affect Future Police Prosecutions?


Just this week, in which former officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted in the murder of George Floyd, there have been more killings of people, including Black people, by police officers. Will the conviction of Derek Chauvin affect future police prosecutions?

We're joined now by Tracey Meares, who's a professor at Yale Law School. Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

TRACEY MEARES: Thank you so much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You know, at the center of this case, of course, was the extraordinary and excruciating 10-minute video of Derek Chauvin truly squeezing the life out of George Floyd. Do you believe other juries might now expect to see videos and discount firsthand or eyewitness testimony?

MEARES: I think the centrality of the video to this conviction cannot be denied. I also think it's the case that we have become, sadly, much more used to seeing these kinds of videos, even videos that aren't involved in trials. And I think the combination of the focal point on this particular trial and the ecosystem of all of the videos that we've been seeing, it's hard to imagine how that will not change the perception of future juries in cases like these.

SIMON: How important and persuasive do you think the testimony of other Minneapolis police officers was in the case - and police officials? Did that sort of break that bubble?

MEARES: I think that's critical, too - right? - because it feeds into the he said, she said, the power dynamics, the police officer wouldn't mischaracterize what happened. You know, the extent to which one can expect someone to be credible, I think, increasingly is being called into question. The fact that every Minneapolis police official who testified in this case was clear that what Derek Chauvin did was inconsistent with policy was critical. And that has not always happened...

SIMON: Yeah.

MEARES: ...In cases like these.

SIMON: Police unions - they have a job to represent their membership. Do you think an effect of the Chauvin case would be - well, how will it affect police unions? Might they be more willing to cooperate with rooting out bad cops, with not almost reflexively rallying to the defense of someone?

MEARES: One would hope, Scott. One of the things that I thought was interesting about a union response that I'm familiar with after the Chauvin trial is that the largest union in California issued a statement, you know, condemning Chauvin's behavior. Do I think that police unions are going to be more likely to condemn this in the future? I hope so. I think there is some evidence in this last case of that. How widespread it will be and whether it will actually rise to the level of national membership organizations taking this step, I'm just unsure.

SIMON: In the middle of the Derek Chauvin trial, there were other cases, other allegations of police misconduct, police brutality, shootings of Black people by police officers throughout the country. Recognizing that each and every case in a legal system deserves to be judged by its own merits, isn't part of the effect of a prosecution supposed to be not just to hold people responsible but to also put up guardrails for society? It's supposed to be a deterrent, isn't it?

MEARES: Prior to these recent incidents, police officers weren't even charged. When they were charged, they were acquitted. We have moved a long way from the Rodney King trial. And so I think one way of looking at it is the long trend in the last 30 years, with increasing numbers of police officers being charged, being subject to trial - and in very few cases, yes, not as many cases as people would like to see, yes. Being held accountable I do think makes a difference to police officers. The officers understand that their behavior is being scrutinized.

SIMON: Tracey Meares is a professor at Yale Law School. Thank you so much for being with us.

MEARES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.