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The “blue wall of silence” collapses in the trial of Derek Chauvin.  Why this case could be a tipping point.

During his lengthy testimony Monday, the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department said nothing to condemn the actions of Derek Chauvin, the former murderer accused in the death of George Floyd.

“Continue to apply this level of force to a person pronounced, handcuffed behind the back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is political,” said Chief Medaria Arradondo. “It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”

Arradondo’s testimony should not have come as a surprise. In his opening statement, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors that Arradondo would not hold back in his assessment that when Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds last May, he used “a excessive force “.

Arradondo’s testimony was still rare. It was remarkable that he was joined by a series of law enforcement officers.

Among those who joined Arradondo on the stand as prosecution witnesses were Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the senior police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, and Inspector Katie Blackwell, who at the time of the death of Floyd, was the commanding officer of the training division.

Chauvin’s former supervisor, Sgt. David Pleoger, also warned of his actions. Pleoger testified on Thursday that, among other things, when Floyd “no longer offered resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint” and that Chauvin did not initially disclose that he knelt at Floyd’s neck. .

Arradondo, Zimmerman, Pleoger and Blackwell failed to protect Chauvin behind the so-called Blue Wall of Silence for various reasons, according to legal experts. The “blue wall of silence” is a term used to describe an informal oath among police officers not to report a colleague’s wrongdoing, including crimes.

Paul Butler, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said the blue wall means “sometimes the police close their ranks and – rightly or wrongly – they’re blue.”

Often times when police are accused of killing someone, it’s because they shot that person, said Butler, who is also a Washington Post columnist and MSNBC legal analyst.

“Shooting someone takes a split second decision,” he said.

In these cases, police officers may be reluctant to testify against a co-worker in part because they dislike being questioned by people unfamiliar with the dangers of their profession, Butler said in an interview on Wednesday. .

Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd, however, was measured, Butler said.

“He had 9 minutes and 29 seconds to reflect on his actions,” he said.

The international protests against racism and police brutality sparked by Floyd’s death may also be a reason the blue wall of silence has collapsed in this case, Butler said.

“I think the officers who testify want to model what good cops look like, both to the jury and to the public, unlike Chauvin,” he said. “I was impressed by the number of officers ready to officially declare how Chauvin violated police procedures and criminal law.”

On Friday, Zimmerman made a series of damning statements about Chauvin’s actions last May.

“Bringing him back to the ground face down and putting your knee on one neck during that time is just unnecessary,” said Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985 and heads his homicide unit.

Zimmerman responded to the scene after Floyd was taken in an ambulance. He said what Chauvin had done was “totally unnecessary”. He said he saw “no reason why officers felt unsafe – if that’s how they felt – and that’s how they should feel in order to be able to use that kind of force.”

His testimony was compelling, Butler said, because police witnesses are often reluctant to draw such conclusions because they are unwilling to participate in convicting an officer or want the jury to determine whether force was excessive.

This was not the case with some of Chauvin’s former colleagues.

Arradondo, the city’s first black police chief, also testified in the trial of Mohamed Noor, a former policeman accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who called the police to report hearing what he said. she thought it was a sexual act. assault on a woman in an alley behind her house. Noor was convicted of third degree murder.

DeLacy Davis, who retired as a sergeant with the East Orange Police Department in New Jersey in 2006, said it was rare for a police chief to testify against an officer in a criminal case.

Davis, an expert in the use of force and community policing, said he believed there were three reasons Arradondo testified against Chauvin, the first being that Chauvin’s actions were “egregious”.

Davis said this was demonstrated by how quickly Arradondo fired the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest. They were fired on May 26 – a day after Floyd died. Typically, Davis said, police chiefs will wait weeks or months to sanction officers for suspected misconduct – if they do – and in most cases, only after they have under pressure from the public.

The second reason he believes Arradondo testified was to boost morale within the police department.

“To also support the men and women who still work in Minneapolis but need to somehow lift their spirits and refocus their practice as professional police officers, he had to send a very clear message,” Davis said. “And I think he did that.”

Davis said Arradondo did not “condemn all policing; he condemned the actions of the four officers involved ”. Davis cited an Arradondo statement released in June in which he said Floyd’s death was a “murder” which one of the police officers caused and the three “others failed to prevent.”

Davis, who is black, believes the breed also influenced Arradondo’s decision to testify.

“As the chief of the colored police, he clearly demonstrated the reluctance or inability to detach his melanin from the reality of what blacks and Maroons are experiencing at the hands of law enforcement in this country,” Davis said. “Because my experience has been, even with black officers, they will follow the line of the company.”

Davis believes the Minneapolis police officers who condemned Chauvin’s actions in their testimony did so because his actions were “indefensible.”

“They couldn’t defend it without shaming their entire agency,” he said.

Floyd, who was black, had been charged with using a fake $ 20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. He was recorded on video of widely viewed spectators, handcuffed, face down on the sidewalk, telling officers he couldn’t breathe.

Inspector Katie Blackwell, who spoke on Monday, said she had known Chauvin for about 20 years and had received annual training in defensive tactics and the use of force. She said he was reportedly trained to use one or two arms – not his knee – in a neck restraint.

After the prosecution showed her a picture of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, she said, “I don’t know what kind of improvised position this is.”

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health issues caused his death, not that Chauvin knelt on top of him, as the prosecutors.

The county medical examiner’s office classified Floyd’s death as a homicide – a death caused by someone else. The report states that Floyd died “of cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating the subdualization, restraint and compression of the neck.” In “other important conditions,” he said Floyd suffered from hypertensive heart disease and had documented fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use. These factors were not listed under the cause of death.

Davis said he believed Floyd’s death was the result of a split-second decision.

“I believe Derek Chauvin made a split second decision that George Floyd was not worthy of the grassroots humanity he was advocating for,” he said. “I hope this is a tipping point in law enforcement that we are now seeing officers of many races speaking and speaking out.”

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