+
Culture

The Derek Chauvin verdict was remarkable because the law is designed to favor police over people

The Derek Chauvin verdict was remarkable because the law is designed to favor police over people
via Hennepin County Sheriff

The verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minnesota police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, has many breathing a sigh of relief. Even though the disturbing video evidence of Floyd dying under Chauvin's knee is impossible to refute, it's incredibly hard to convict an officer of murder.

The United States judicial system is so preferential to law enforcement that even though the world saw murder in broad daylight, many were skeptical of whether he'd be convicted.

"Most people, I think, believe that it's a slam dunk," David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert in policing, told the Washington Post before the trial. "But he said, "the reality of the law and the legal system is, it's just not."


Chauvin was convicted of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. The presumptive sentence according to Minnesota law is 12 ½ years, but aggravating circumstances could raise that number by decades.

"Let's also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare," President Biden said after the verdict was announced. "For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver a just — just basic accountability."

Since 2005, Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University, has been tracking police misconduct and found the number convicted of murder is incredibly small.

Over that time's he's counted 140 causes of police being arrested on murder or manslaughter charges as the result of an on-duty shooting. Of the 97 cases that have been concluded, only seven resulted in murder convictions. Some were reduced to lesser offenses and more than half were dismissed or resulted in acquittals.

When it comes to justice for unarmed Black men and women, the numbers are even more sobering.

According to NPR, around 135 Black people have been fatally shot by police since 2015 and authorities failed to press charges in 80 of these cases. Only 13 of the officers who received manslaughter or murder charges with only four were found guilty.

There are myriad reasons why it's so difficult to convict police of murder. "The law favors the police, the law as it exists," Harris added.

One major reason is because of the Supreme Court's 1989 Graham v. Connor decision that states an officer's actions must be judged against what a reasonable officer would do. "A police officer can use force, but it has to be justifiable," Neil J. Bruntrager, a St. Louis-based attorney, told Washington Post. "And what the Supreme Court has told us is we have to see it through the eyes of the police."

via Fibonacci Blue / Flickr


Officers can avoid convictions by claiming they killed someone out of fear for their own safety.

"If a civilian is displaying a weapon, it's very hard to charge [the police officer] with murder for taking action against that civilian," Kate Levine, a professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, told FiveThirtyEight. "And even if a civilian doesn't have a weapon, it's hard to charge a police officer if [the officer] can credibly say they feared for their life."

Police also enjoy the protection of unions that provide high-priced legal services immediately after an incident. There is also a built-in conflict of interest in the legal system. Prosecutors often depend on police so they're inclined to protect those relationships.

Police defendants are more likely to refuse plea deals because their high-quality representation makes them more likely to win a trial. "The quality of the lawyering is very different from regular criminal cases," Brandon Garrett, professor law and Duke University, told CNN. "For the typical criminal defendant, it's incredibly risky to go to trial."

Finally, police are protected from being held accountable by qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that makes it nearly impossible for individuals to sue public officials. "Qualified immunity fosters an environment where government agents, including police, may feel empowered to violate people's rights with the knowledge they will face few consequences," the ACLU said. "Under qualified immunity, lives can be taken with impunity."

Officers are able to hide behind qualified immunity because of a clause that says their misbehavior must be "clearly established" somewhere in case law.

Lawmakers across the country are working to hold police accountable by striking down qualified immunity. In 2020, former Republican and current Libertarian Representative Justin Amash of Michigan unveiled the first bill to end qualified immunity on a federal level for all public officials. Unfortunately, it went nowhere.

However, it looks like qualified immunity's time could be coming to an end at the local level. Bills addressing qualified immunity have been introduced in 19 states and Connecticut, Colorado, and New Mexico have all passed laws curtailing its power. New York City recently became the first municipality to restrict its use.

It's too early to say whether the Chauvin decision marks the beginning of a new era where police are held accountable for their on-duty behavior. But the result of the trial is a great example of what can happen when Americans come together in support of truth and justice.

"For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors, "President Biden said, "a brave young woman with a smartphone camera; a crowd that was traumatized — traumatized witnesses; a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for, ultimately, the whole world to see; officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended; a jury who heard the evidence, carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure."

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

This company makes it easier than ever to enjoy guilt-free fairly traded coffee

Thanks to Lifeboost, good coffee can be good for everyone.

Unsplash

Lifeboost coffee

Americans love coffee. Like, we really, seriously, truly love it. According to one recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee at least occasionally, while 53 percent—about 110 million people—drink it every single day. For some, coffee is an essential part of their morning ritual. For others, it’s something they enjoy when they hit the proverbial wall in the late afternoon. But either way, millions of people use coffee to boost energy, focus, and productivity.


Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Linda Ronstadt's 1970's ballad is a chart-topping hit once again thanks to 'The Last of Us'

The iconic 70s song "Long, Long Time" was an integral part of an unforgettable episode that fans are calling a masterpiece.

Linda Ronstadt (left), Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (right)

HBO’s emotional third episode of the zombie series “The Last Of Us” became an instant favorite among fans, thanks in no small part to Linda Ronstadt’s late 1970s ballad, “Long, Long Time.”

Using the song as the episode’s title, “Long, Long Time,” moves away from the show’s main plot to instead focus on a heartbreakingly beautiful love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), from its endearing start all the way to its bittersweet end.

The song makes its first appearance during the initial stages of Bill and Frank’s romance as they play the tune on the piano, just before they share their first kiss.

We see their entire lives together play out—one of closeness, devotion, and savoring homegrown strawberries—until they meet their end. The song then plays on the radio, bringing the bottle episode to a poignant close.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

34-year-old man is learning to read on TikTok in series of motivational videos

His reading skills have improved so much that he plans to read 100 books this year.

@oliverspeaks1/TikTok

Oliver James is the biggest star on BookTok.

With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.

For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.

"The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating," he told Good Morning America. "So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class."

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

Keep ReadingShow less