To appreciate the impact of George Floyd’s murder and Derek Chauvin’s trial and its rippling effect across the nation, one need look no further than downtown Bozeman, where nearly 400 people gathered Sunday to affirm the worth of the lives of people of color and protest the treatment they have received at the hands of police in high-profile cases nationally.
That trial concluded Tuesday when the jury quickly and decisively delivered guilty verdicts on all counts for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with Floyd’s murder during an arrest last May 25. The swift verdict was testament to the courage of those jurors and the witnesses who provided the compelling evidence that led to Chauvin’s conviction.
Activists are hopeful Floyd’s killing and Chauvin’s prosecution will add impetus to efforts to reform the nation’s approach to law enforcement. And Bozeman is no exception.
Sunday’s demonstration was preceded by others last year as national unrest grew in the wake of Floyd’s killing. Those demonstrations were followed by pleas to the Bozeman City Commission to shift priorities away from enforcement and toward prevention of the ills that spawn violations of the law — poverty, addiction and racism.
And the commission responded by shifting some police funding from purchasing new equipment to anti-discrimination training for police officers and larger contributions to local nonprofits that combat social problems. Commissioners also requested a broad review of city and police practices related to racial discrimination, use-of-force, de-escalation and the citizen appeal process.
The commissioners are urged to continue and expand efforts to engender trust between law enforcement officials and those they are entrusted to protect. It is only through such trust that efforts to reform law enforcement priorities can succeed.
In the wake of Chauvin’s conviction, all are reminded that, in the larger picture, his actions were a rare exception. The vast majority of police officers are dedicated to performing their duties with integrity and fairness toward all. It will be an unfortunate fallout from the Floyd tragedy and the subsequent trial and conviction if they discourage young people from pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Our collective wellbeing and safety depend on dedicated police officers. And a career in law enforcement continues to be a noble calling.