The precedent set by the Chauvin murder conviction

The verdict yesterday, while welcome, and historic — police supervisors testified that an officer was out of control when he killed (we can now say murdered) a handcuffed prisoner — sets a limited precedent.

The writer of an op-ed in the Times today makes this horrific point:

Yet [in spite of an “avalanche” of damning evidence] right up until the reading of the verdict, much of the nation was on tenterhooks about the outcome of what ought to have been an open-and-shut case. This suspense over whether the reams of evidence would matter is itself a scandal. Only by wading through the facts as the jury saw them can you appreciate this.


The Chauvin precedent seems to be:

In a case where there is overwhelming multi-perspective video, witness and forensic evidence of the officer’s guilt, and his supervisors testify against him, and the defense has nothing but ridiculous, irrational, counterfactual stories aimed at producing reasonable doubt in at least one racist juror, and there is a massive movement on the streets in a country ready to explode from centuries of ongoing, unaddressed racism and police brutality with no accountability — sure, in that case, a jury of twelve will vote to convict that kind of murderous, very bad apple. 

It’s a rare and encouraging moment of accountability, yes, but the uniquely overwhelming, unambiguous, incontrovertible evidence in this particular police killing of a handcuffed “suspect” is something to keep in perspective (as I figure out how we point the Jewish space laser at certain rabid Qanon members of Congress, and at Tucker “Jews will not replace us” Carlson, who needs to be replaced, if not simply vaporized.)

Bear in mind that the original police report blandly reported that a suspect, after resisting arrest, appeared to have been suffering from a medical condition and was rushed to the hospital where he died. Darnella Frazier’s real-time videotape of the murder directly contradicted the official report — and went viral worldwide. But for the 17 year-old’s courageous action documenting the killing, the lying police report would have been the last word on Mr. Floyd’s death.

In another great moment for justice, the Department of Justice is investigating whether Chauvin violated George Floyd’s civil rights by slowly choking him to death [1]. It’s the kind of thing you read and think “what the fuck? the fucking law… grrrr…”

It reminds me of the infamous, little known, constitutionally pernicious Cruikshank case, which was brought by the brand new Department of Justice in 1873 after a white mob massacred more than a hundred Blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. The case was the first decisive death knell for the “equal protection under law” promised in the new Fourteenth Amendment. It was a long nail into the coffin of Reconstruction after the Civil War and a case that could be cited in support of any “states’ rights” argument.

The case was brought on violation of civil rights grounds against the mob that massed for a day of burning, shooting and slaughter, after an election that was going to put candidates voted for by Blacks into office, an election the mob claimed had been stolen. The mass killing, the indictment read, denied at least two named victims (one was named Tillman, as I recall) of their civil rights.

Cruikshank made its way up to the Supreme Court where the indictments against Cruikshank and his fellow pogromists were dismissed due what the majority found to be to the inartful [2] drafting of the original indictment by the Department of Justice. The case held that the US could not prosecute a federal criminal case against a conspiracy of private citizens to violate the civil rights of the dozens of people they butchered on Easter Sunday, 1873. That kind of prosecution was left exclusively up to the discretion of the individual states, in spite of whatever might be implied from the language of the Fourteenth Amendment or the laws passed to enforce it.

The case made abundantly clear that the 1870s Supreme Court had a very, very narrow view of the 14th Amendment, which had been ratified to provide rights the states denied on “states’ rights” grounds. States would be able to openly deny these civil rights for close to a century, largely due to the holding in Cruikshank, and its more famous sibling, the aptly named Slaughterhouse cases.

Here’s the plaque some fucking racists erected in Colfax, long after the events of that hellish Easter Sunday in 1873:

[1] Democracy Now reports:

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the probe Wednesday, one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.

Attorney General Merrick Garland: “Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. … The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests.”

The probe is separate from a federal criminal investigation into whether Chauvin violated George Floyd’s civil rights.



This piece on the recent origins of the word “inartful” by the late William Safire is artfully done. He attributes it to Barack Obama, to whom he ironically tips his cap for another remark, which Safire gives us the ancient on-the-nose Latin analogue for.

The Harvard-trained senator’s best subtle play on Latin so far was his comment about problems with those checking out his potential vice-presidential choices: “I would have to hire a vetter to vet the vetters.” As lawyers know, this catchy noun-verb construction is bottomed on a phrase in the poet Juvenal’s sixth satire in the second century A.D. advising his friend Ursidius to remain a bachelor because eligible young women were no longer as chaste as in the old days and, as wives, tended to dally with those assigned to protect them: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is translated as “Who shall guard the guardians?”

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