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Opinion Policing is not really on trial in Minnesota. That’s too bad.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testifies Monday in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. (Court TV via AP, Pool) (AP)
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An astonishing eight Minneapolis police officers who outranked Derek Chauvin have testified against their former colleague during his murder trial. Lt. Johnny Mercil, the department’s use-of-force training coordinator, said that the type of neck restraint Chauvin used on George Floyd was an “unauthorized” act of aggression. Inspector Katie Blackwell testified that she’s known Chauvin for 20 years and “that’s not what we train.” Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who runs the homicide division, said that Chauvin’s use of force was “uncalled for” and “totally unnecessary.”

The jury has heard so many department officials, including Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, disavow Chauvin that Judge Peter A. Cahill warned prosecutors against being repetitive. “We are getting to the point of being cumulative,” he said Monday.

To convict Chauvin, Minnesota prosecutors have gone out of their way to defend the patterns and practices of the Minneapolis Police Department; their argument, as prosecutor Jerry Blackwell put it, is that Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, “betrayed this badge.” As a legal strategy, this makes perfect sense — they need to show that Chauvin’s actions are outside the norm of acceptable police behavior. He was, in this depiction, the ultimate bad apple.

But there is a way in which this argument is in fundamental tension with advocates’ demands to recognize broader problems in policing and the ways in which systemic racism contributes to excessive force regularly deployed against people of color. Chauvin as rogue cop — enabled by three other officers who will stand trial separately — undercuts the narrative of a criminal justice system in need of dramatic reform.

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Every player in a legal drama has an assigned role. These officers technically served as witnesses for the prosecution, but to a larger degree, they testified in defense of the police — in particular, in defense of the contested proposition that policing not just can aspire to respectful, colorblind treatment but also for the most part is already there. In this sense, the blue wall of silence under which police stand by their own has not been dismantled so much as moved — not to shield an individual officer but to protect an entire department.

Police reform is not enough. We need to rethink public safety.

Arradondo, who once termed Chavin’s action “murder,” was more restrained in his testimony Monday. Perhaps there was “an initial reasonableness” in “the first few seconds” that Chauvin got on top of Floyd, but he said there was nothing reasonable about the officer keeping his knee on the handcuffed suspect’s neck for 9½ minutes. “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” Arradondo said.

Even as he condemned Chauvin, the chief vigorously defended policing, asserting that he believes policing in the United States is more professional than any other country. He boasted that the city spent about $13 million on training last year and that every officer — including himself — annually retrains to learn the latest best practices.

“It’s really about treating everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said. “We see our neighbors as ourselves.”

Arradondo himself is Black, but it is not hard to imagine that many Black residents of Minneapolis — or indeed other cities — greeted that testimony with more than a little skepticism. While the chief turned to face the jury as he answered questions from lawyers on both sides of the case, his intended audience often appeared to be the city he’s trying to police, especially marginalized communities that have decades of reasons for mistrusting officers.

It’s very unusual for a police chief to speak in court against one of his own, even someone he fired, but the 54-year-old has done it before. In 2019, Arradondo also testified at the murder trial of a Black ex-officer who fatally shot a White woman who had called 911 to report hearing a possible sexual assault. The outcry over that incident, combined with other use-of-force complaints, led to the ouster of the previous chief.

Arradondo sued the department for racial discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion practices in 2007. The city settled with him and a group of other Black police officers two years later for $740,000.

Arradondo’s rosy depiction of the department he now leads was at odds with some of the witnesses who took the stand before him and described police harassment as routine — and race-based.

An off-duty firefighter, who is White, said she did not immediately leave the scene after Floyd’s body was driven away because she was afraid for the welfare of Black bystanders. A cashier at a gas station across the street from where Chauvin pinned Floyd said she started taping the confrontation because of how she'd seen other officers behave.

“It’s always the police,” said Alisha Oyler, 23. “They’re always messing with people.”

Read more:

Paul Butler: When to ignore race in the Derek Chauvin trial

Radley Balko: Don’t read too much into the outcome of Derek Chauvin’s trial

Eugene Robinson: Black Americans all got Derek Chauvin’s message. Loud and clear.

The Post’s View: No jury should accept that Derek Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do

Eugene Robinson: The world saw George Floyd’s final minutes. Now it will see whether he gets justice.

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