Justice didn’t happen swiftly enough for many this week after a cell phone recording showed a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man in his custody until the man apparently stopped breathing. Justice certainly wasn’t swift enough to stave off the violence, rioting, and looting that left large areas of the Twin Cities, including a police precinct, on fire and destroyed.
But the third-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Officer Derek Chauvin Friday actually were reached “with extraordinary speed,” according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
“This is by far the fastest we’ve ever charged a police officer,” Freeman told reporters in a press conference announcing the charges livestreamed at duluthnewstribune.com and elsewhere. “Less than four days: that’s extraordinary. … Normally these cases can take nine months to a year. We have to charge these cases very carefully because we have a difficult burden of proof. …
“We have now been able to put together the evidence that we need. Even as late as (Thursday) afternoon we didn’t have all that we needed,” Freeman said Friday afternoon. “We have now found it and have felt a responsibility to (to file) charges as soon as possible.”
Evidence takes time to pull together accurately, thoroughly, and in other ways to help ensure a successful prosecution. In the case built against Chauvin, evidence includes video recordings from citizens, police body camera footage, witness statements, a preliminary report from the medical examiner, and expert testimony, Freeman indicated.
Additional charges could be filed against Chauvin, according to Freeman. “We are in the process of continuing to review the evidence,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Other officers on the scene with Chauvin also continue to be “under investigation,” Freeman said. “I anticipate charges” against them, too. All four officers were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department earlier this week.
With charges filed, whether swiftly enough or not, Minnesotans can pray that the unrest that has thrust our state into the national spotlight in a way we never want can come to a peaceful end. Bigotry, systemic racism, inequities, and more are matters that can’t be ignored. They demand to be addressed and were all were thrust into the public spotlight this week -- where they long have needed to be. We can’t squander this opportunity to finally work on fixes. Together. All of us.
But that can’t happen while businesses are being destroyed and police officers are launching tear gas and shooting rubber bullets into unruly crowds.
Additional protests are being planned, including this weekend in Duluth, and social media posts are suggesting they could be accompanied by even more violence. Everyone who chooses to participate — to exercise their constitutionally protected right to assemble and to demonstrate in the name of advocating for important, necessary changes in our world — can make sure any gathering remains peaceful. Our voices can be heard then, and our important messages effectively conveyed, without being overshadowed by the criminal activity of a few.
Justice can help lead to solutions. Friday’s charges can be a necessary first step — along with a welcome return to peace and a commitment to be a better Minnesota.