This column is going to anger some readers, and probably offend others. But it needs to be written. There is much more going on right now than demonstrations and riots over the death of George Floyd. There is a threat to our criminal justice system being encouraged by some police officers and elected officials.
Like every other human on this planet with access to an electronic device that allowed viewing the video of Officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, I was horrified at what I saw. Like everyone, I leapt to the conclusion that this was unwarranted murder. Some people took to the streets to demonstrate against the viewed horror. Others destroyed innocent people’s businesses, property, vehicles. Whether peacefully carrying signs or wrecking violence and mayhem, all was said to be in the cause of justice for George Floyd.
A multitude of people, from Barack Obama to Joe Biden, Hollywood actors and actresses, well-known and obscure sports figures, anyone with a reporter’s microphone nearby or on the telephone, have voiced their opinions about the death of Mr. Floyd. Everyone concluded it was an unjust murder, motivated by hate and racism. They may well be right. But what facts do they have to support their conclusion? The only thing any of us has right now is a video recorded on the cellular phone of a bystander.
Yes, the video seems clear. The conclusion everyone has reached is there can be no doubt as to what happened, and as to what the motivations of the officer were. There can be no doubt why the other three officers did nothing to halt the act of Officer Chauvin. They are all racists, and should be fired, then indicted, tried and convicted.
Unfortunately, there have also been a number of law enforcement officials and elected officials who have openly expressed their own outrage at what happened also.
Some sheriffs chose to show their solidarity with the protesters by marching with them, or kneeling at demonstrations. On June 2, the Bend Police Department, Bend police chief and Deschutes County district attorney were quoted in The Bulletin openly condemning this murder.
What is wrong with this? There is a principle in criminal law referred to as the presumption of innocence. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the phrase often used. We have had an arrest, and charges have been filed. But there has been no trial. There has been no adjudicated verdict. We all watched a video and convicted Officer Chauvin, with no more facts or evidence than the video.
I agree with everyone that based on the video, Officer Chauvin is guilty. However, I also think it is reprehensible that any law enforcement official or elected official publicly speaks out as if the trial has taken place. We expect the general public to leap to conclusions based on a small amount of evidence, however damning. But we do not expect, nor should we accept, our law enforcement officials and district attorney also lowering themselves to this behavior. I do not know what their oaths of office say, but I doubt they include leaping to conclusions without facts and then expressing themselves publicly.
The Bend Police Department, police chief and Deschutes County district attorney need to apologize to the citizens of Bend and Deschutes County for their unprofessional behavior. And they need to learn when being silent, or choosing their words much more carefully, is appropriate. We can express our abhorrence at Mr. Floyd’s death without compromising the laws and principles that govern our conduct as a civilized society.