Each Case Brings Us Closer to Ending Qualified Immunity for Killer Cops

Convicted ex-cop Derek Chauvin seemed genuinely stunned to learn he actually will be held responsible for the murder of a Black man

Keith Reed
Momentum
Published in
3 min readApr 22, 2021

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Protesters hold their fists in the air at a rally in downtown Minneapolis near the courthouse calling for justice for George Floyd after closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on April 19, 2021. Photo: Getty Images

For an instant, Black America and Derek Chauvin aligned in a singular emotion: disbelief. It flashed in Chauvin’s eyes just as the weight of decades of unjust acquittals was shifted from our shoulders onto the murderer’s, where it had always belonged. The convicted killer cop couldn’t conceive that a jury would dare hold him accountable.

Neither could many of us.

Chauvin will now wait eight weeks for sentencing but relief was much briefer. The verdict hadn’t even been read before a Columbus, Ohio, cop killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, in front of her own house. Police said Bryant had a knife, but witnesses added the context that she was armed in self-defense and that Bryant herself had called the police because she was being jumped by other girls. As the news spread, our collective sigh flipped back to anger and exhaustion at yet another flashpoint in the battle to bring a permanent end to police violence against Black bodies.

New York’s city council voted to end the use of “qualified immunity” — the concept that cops can’t be held personally liable for their actions on the job — as a defense in abuse of force cases.

While many viewed Chauvin’s conviction as a watershed moment, the truth is that full justice was never available through convicting one cop of murder. Still, there was a sense that a tide was turning. The course of a four-week trial saw one previously unthinkable event after another: a Black state attorney general took over the case from local prosecutors, a diverse jury was seated, cops — both local and from other, bigger departments — crossed the thin blue line to help the state jail one of their own.

Other signs of progress flashed while Chauvin was on trial. Maryland’s General Assembly overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass the most sweeping statewide police reform in the country. The legislation…

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Keith Reed
Momentum

Keith Reed is a writer, commentator & former ESPN the Magazine editor, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vibe, Essence, CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere.