Nancy: You're listening to the takeaway. I'm Nancy Solomon from WNYC's newsroom, in this week for Tanzina Vega. You get the first word today. In the wake of the guilty verdict for former police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, we reached out to you to see how you've been processing the news. Many of you had a similar message.
Ruth: Hi, this is Ruth from Morrison, Colorado. The verdict was a huge relief, but I can't help but think about the decades of coverup and lying and our police watching out for themselves.
Diane: My name is Diane, I'm calling from Dallas. How can we celebrate this one accountability when hours before McCaya Bryant, a 15 year old girl, is gunned down by police. This is a crumb of accountability Atatiana Jefferson's parents both died before seeing her murder even get a trial date. What is it really to cheer for? Black Americans are still being treated inhuman. This is not a celebration, by far. it's in injustice to see accountability for just one police officer when there's so, so many others that don't receive accountability. Treat us the same way they treat each other.
Samantha: Samantha McKenzie, I'm calling from Wilmington, North Carolina. It's so sad that so many of us were waiting with bated breath for the verdict. It's a sad commentary and it's the judicial system that has given us this impression where none of us thought that justice would be served.
Mark: My name is Mark Kauffman. I think it's important to know that the conviction of Derek Chauvin and the murder of George Floyd doesn't mean anything unless we face the immutable fact that all these Black victims of police violence would be alive if they were white. That's the unspoken truth and it's time that it's uttered and confronted.
Nancy: A relatively rare guilty verdict for a police officer in the murder of a Black American was a relief, but systemic racism is still embedded throughout our country's criminal justice system. That's been more than evident when you look at the number of police killings that took place during the trial of Derek Chauvin. In the week since the jury's verdict was announced, according to the New York Times, at least 64 people were killed by police since testimony in late March. In many cases, developments are still ongoing. Just last week in the case of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York records were released showing that members of a grand jury voted overwhelmingly not to charge the officers involved in his killing.
In the case of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, the officer charged with murder has yet to head to trial. At the same time, the department of justice is launching its own investigations related to at least two of these cases. Attorney general Merrick Garland recently announced police probes in both Minneapolis and Louisville in connection to the killings of both George Floyd and Brionna Taylor. While this might change the approach to policing in specific cities, many criminal justice reform advocates are emphasizing that more sweeping national reforms are needed to prevent the list of Black Americans killed by police from growing.
With me now to discuss all of this is Aaron Morrison, national race and ethnicity writer for the Associated Press. Aaron, great to have you back on the show.
Aaron: It's good to be back.
Nancy: Also with us is Shaila Dewan, criminal justice reporter for the New York Times. Shaila thanks for being here as well.
Shaila: Thanks for having me.
Nancy: Shaila, let's start with you. Let's go through a few updates on some of the high profile cases that rose to prominence during last summer's racial justice uprisings. Remind us about the details in the Armada April killing and where things stand with the men indicted in that case.
Shaila: Sure. Armada April was shot in a community near the Georgia coast by civilians, some of whom were former law enforcement. This was he was jogging through the neighborhood. They believed he was suspicious and may have committed a robbery or burglary, and basically chased him down. Not surprisingly, he struggled against them and they shot him. That case is yet to go on trial, but there are three people charged. What's interesting about that case is that they are actually in jail awaiting trial. That's somewhat unusual in some of these cases. We've seen police officers get released on bond. In this case, the judge has repeatedly declined to release the three men charged.
Nancy: Is that one just proceeding at pace or has there have there been delays in it?
Shaila: I don't think there's been any undue delays. A lot of times it takes a long time to prepare for trial in cases like these. In fact, the Chauvin case was surprisingly fast to come to trial in my mind.
Nancy: Tell us about the trial of Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer who shot and killed Rashard Brooks last June. That's the one that took place in a Wendy's parking lot. Why is that one taking so long to get started?
Shaila: That one has run into legal problems. The district attorney, Paul Howard, who filed the charges against the police officers and then used some of the footage, I believe, in his campaign ads, he was running for re-election at that time. He was defeated and the new prosecutor who's taken over the case has said, "I don't think my office can try this case," and has basically tried to give it to the attorney general. I don't believe the attorney general has accepted the case. It's become a hot potato in Georgia. The case has significant hurdles when you're looking at what you're going to tell a jury. It may be that prosecutors are not eager to try that case.
Nancy: Let's talk about one more. There was news earlier this month about Rustin Chesky, the police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin who fired six bullets into the back of Jacob Blake last summer, leaving him paralyzed. Chesky will not be disciplined and was able to return to his job. What happened? Why was he allowed to return like that?
Shaila: They declined to bring charges against him. I think that highlights a problem with a lot of these cases, which is that what we allow police officers to do legally often does not comport with what we expect as a community ethically. In this case, there were elements present which provide a pass for police. Oftentimes there was a presence of a weapon, even though it's very unclear that he was brandishing a weapon at all, and his lawyers say that he was not, the presence of a weapon is something that often provides cover for police to use deadly force, or in this case slightly less than lethal force.
They just said, "We're not going to charge him." When they said that, they cited Jacob Blake's history of domestic violence. This is another thing you see happening, where prosecutors will look at the history of the victim, even if the police officer on the scene did not know that history. I'm sorry, I should correct myself. When I say history of domestic violence, I mean history of accusations of domestic violence.
Nancy: Aaron, let's bring you into this. Following the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, the US department of justice has now announced that it's going to be investigating both the Minneapolis Police Department and the Louisville Police Department, that's the agency that killed Brionna Taylor. Why are these investigations being announced now?
Aaron: I think part of the reason is because pretty much during the entirety of the Trump administration there were no new DOJ investigations into police misconduct or what they call pattern or practice investigations into police departments. What we're seeing right now, it's really just a restart of an effort under the Obama administration and prior to the Obama administration in which the federal law allows the DOJ to go into local police departments and investigate any violations of the constitution and any practices that basically violate citizens' rights.
Nancy: Do we have any sense yet of what the investigations are going to look like? What exactly are they going to be investigating?
Aaron: It's almost like, and I hate to use the word autopsy, but it's almost like an autopsy of a police department. It's not to say that police department is dead, but it's essentially saying, "We're going to go in and just put a really fine-tooth comb through all of your practices. Your hiring, use of force, arrests, racial data around who gets tickets." All of the things that a police department would do, the police agency would do. All of that gets reviewed by the DOJ and specifically the civil rights division. If you're familiar with this practice or these investigations it's because you've heard of it before.
They did that in Ferguson Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown and what the DOJ found was that there was a pattern of practice of police there conducting stops without reasonable suspicion, disproportionately stopping African-American residents of the St. Louis Suburb. Also, not just in the policing practices, it was supported by the municipal court in Ferguson. We're talking about, they found a focus on using police to drive revenue and basically create debtors' prisons were folks who had tickets for jaywalking or not adhering to some sort of municipal ordinance, they were racking up debts. If they didn't pay those debts, that could get them in jail. That could get them jail time.
That's just some of the things that DOJ investigation into a police department can uncover. I think that's one of the reasons why you're seeing it now is because there is a real push among the advocates and the public to crack down on these long, unfair, and biased police practices.
Nancy: What was the outcome with the, in the Michael Brown case after that investigation? What actually happened after they found all that wrongdoing?
Aaron: The results generally after these findings can be mixed. What the justice department can do is essentially entering into an agreement with that city or with the police department it's called a consent decree and this installs a federal monitor to say, "Here's what you're going to do. You're going to reform, you're going to change the training practices. You're going to get better at reporting arrests and things like that." Often that can lead to some change locally, but not widespread.
Nancy: Shaila, we were talking about the new department of justice investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville. The FBI has also announced this week that they'll be conducting a civil rights investigation into the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. What's the difference between the FBI's investigation and the department of justice? How do those differ, because isn't it all department of justice in the end?
Shaila: Well, the FBI is investigating a specific case and that would give them the potential to bring civil rights charges against the officers involved. What the DOJ is doing is called a pattern and practice investigation. In other words, not one killing, not one botched raid, but, "Does your department have policies that discriminate, that lead to routine violations of people's civil rights? "Those are two different things.
Nancy: Do you have any sense of whether this is going to pressure local officials? In the Andrew Brown case in Elizabeth City, they have yet to release much information about that shooting. That's the one where he was shot from behind through the rear window of his car. Does this kind of a thing, with the FBI involvement, does it clamp down on things or is it going to open it up more? Do you have any sense of that?
Shaila: I think that what's putting pressure on local officials is the people. The protestors in the street, the activists, the advocates, they have really moved the needle in terms of what prosecutors are expected to do in the case of police violence. We've seen cases in the past where families had waited months or even years to see the bodycam footage of their loved one's death and now we're hearing just that is not acceptable anymore. I think police departments and mayors have a new playbook. You saw this with Dante Wright who was killed in the Minneapolis Suburbs during the Chauvin trial.
You could almost see them holding this brand new script in their hands when they addressed that event, and handling it very differently from before. I think that's the result of the people on the street and not necessarily what the FBI is doing.
Nancy: Well, change is good, we can say that much about it. Aaron, you talked about the department of justice taking up more cases now that we have Biden in the White house. Is that also true for the FBI or did we see the FBI get involved in any of these cases of police violence during the Trump administration?
Aaron: What often happens, and this is true not just for police shooting cases, but the FBI will often offer local law enforcement its assistance with resources and helping them investigate a case that either is getting a lot of attention or is bubbling up to the national cases that we've come to know. It doesn't always mean that it's because the local police department or a local law enforcement agency has done something wrong, but it can. I think it's safe to say that in the case of the Elizabeth City shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., the FBI is coming in because there are some concerns about, just in a few short days, how the local law enforcement apparatus in investigating whether or not it's being fair and how it interacts with the family of Andrew Brown Jr., whether it's being transparent.
I think there are cases where the FBI just comes in and says, "Hey, we want to give you some help." There are also cases where the FBI says, "Hey we have some concerns and so we're going to do our own investigation."
Nancy: What about from the perspective of the advocates and activists? What are you hearing from them about the spate of killings post Chauvin verdict? What are their next steps and strategy going forward?
Aaron: Well, people thought that maybe with the Chauvin verdicts, that some of the activists who've been calling for the defunding of police would maybe back off or ratchet down their rhetoric, but that's not been the case. In fact, what we know is that one individual officer being convicted can send a signal, certainly to police officers across the country, but it does not mean that you can expect that things will be done differently all across the country. There are 18,000 police agencies or law enforcement agencies that operate in the US and so the idea that change can happen as a result of what happened in Minneapolis can't be absent of federal sweeping legislation or reforms that would spur some of those and really encourage local police departments across the country to do things differently.
Nancy: It's also been surprising to me to see the Republican backlash and the targeting of protests as the criminalization of protesting rather than a heartfelt response to stopping this problem. Is that going to have a chilling effect, these new laws that are coming into place that put more criminal penalties up there?
Aaron: Yes, I think that is going to have some impact, but generally the diehard folks, particularly those in the Black Lives Matter Movement who've been in the streets for years, I don't think you're going to find that they're going to stop hitting the streets as a result of these new laws that are cropping up in places like Oklahoma and other jurisdiction that are really focusing on this idea that there's a threat to law enforcement when protestors use their first amendment right to demand better from their government. There's more likely to be legal civil liberties groups, like the ACLU and others, coming to aid these protesters if they do face criminalization for protesting.
Nancy: I'm afraid we're going to have to end it there. Aaron Morrison is a national race and ethnicity writer for the Associated Press and Shaila Dewan is a criminal justice reporter for the New York Times. Thanks to you, both for coming on the air and speaking with us.
Aaron: Thank you.
Shaila: Thank you.
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