“Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress,” read the Minneapolis Police Department statement sent shortly after George Floyd’s death. “Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to [a hospital] by ambulance where he died a short time later. At no time were any weapons used by anyone involved in this incident.”

If it weren’t for the video shot by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier on her phone, that’s likely all that would have been released about the death of George Floyd. He’d have been a blip: a guy accused of passing a fake $20 bill who resisted arrest, suffered “medical distress” and died. Yes, the officers wore body cameras. But under state law, only the subjects of a video, their families or their attorneys can request footage. Perhaps Floyd’s family would have requested it. But the body camera footage isn’t nearly as compelling. It seems likely that without that particular video, from that angle, there would never have been protests, public outrage and state action.

Under our criminal justice system, it took a lot to convict a police officer of murder for an on-the-job death — there have been fewer than 10 such convictions since 2005. It took that video, certainly, which was so gut-wrenching and incontrovertible. It took an especially unsympathetic officer, one who had been the subject of numerous prior complaints, who had been accused of kneeling on the necks of other suspects, and whose statements and body language depicted an appalling, callous indifference to the pleas of the man he was suffocating.

It probably took the landmark election of Keith Ellison, a fairly left-of-center attorney general, who in 2018 became the first Black person elected to any statewide office in Minnesota. Ellison’s office took over the prosecution of Derek Chauvin. And while Ellison would perhaps have brought charges against Chauvin in any context, it also seems clear that widespread protests have provided prosecutors with more political cover to bring charges in these cases. Since 2015, the number of officers charged each year for on-duty killings has increased significantly. That’s almost certainly because the 2014 Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement have pressured public officials to hold rogue officers more accountable.

It probably also took a remarkably diverse jury. Hennepin County is 74 percent White, and jury pools typically underrepresent racial minorities. Defying the odds, half of Chauvin’s jury was non-White or multiracial. Much as we’d like to think otherwise, that likely mattered.

It took the appointment of a reform-minded police chief at the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, who made the department more accountable and transparent, and who implemented policies that would later allow him and other department officials to testify that Chauvin, without question, had violated those policies. Without that testimony, without the unanimity from Minneapolis Police Department trainers and leadership that Chauvin had violated policy, it seems unlikely he would have been convicted. (It’s also worth noting that early in his career, Arradondo successfully sued the department for racial discrimination. One of the named defendants was president of the city’s police union at the time of Floyd’s death.)

Ironically, it may have also taken a previous incident in which a Black police officer killed an unarmed White woman. Former officer Mohamed Noor, a Somali immigrant, was convicted of murder in 2019 for shooting and killing Justine Ruszczyk in 2017. The incident led to the ouster of the city’s previous police chief and the appointment of Arradondo. It’s also at least arguable that Noor’s prosecution provided more political cover to prosecute Chauvin.

It took a relatively unpersuasive use-of-force expert from the defense, one who also testified in one of the few other murder convictions of a police officer — Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot and killed Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Barry Brodd’s testimony was so ineffective, even reliable defenders of law enforcement were skeptical.

What happened in Minneapolis on Tuesday isn’t typical. Even when officers are charged, which is rare, only about 45 percent are convicted, vs. nearly 70 percent in other cases. Among cases that go to trial, more than half are acquitted. For comparison, a 2009 study of the largest urban counties found that only about 1 percent of trials overall resulted in an acquittal. Juries simply don’t like to convict police officers.

Big-city police chiefs tend to be reform-minded, but 90 percent of the police departments in the United States have 50 officers or less, and nearly half have fewer than 10. And while 42 percent of the largest police departments are led by Black chiefs, nationally, it’s just 4 percent. As of 2017, about 95 percent of elected prosecutors were White. In most places, it’s much more politically risky for a prosecutor to bring charges against a police officer.

Chauvin’s conviction struck a blow for justice, but this isn’t how the system operates most of the time. It’s how the system operated once, under immense public scrutiny and extremely favorable conditions, with incredibly damning evidence. That’s why the reforms sparked by Floyd’s death are so important, and ought to be only the beginning. A system that requires so much merely to hold one of its own to account is a system badly in need of repair.

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