The most recent days of the Derek Chauvin trial have shown this country, and specifically Black America, something most never thought they’d see: that the blue wall of silence can, indeed, crumble.
This week, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, a lifelong veteran of the department and the city’s first Black police chief, testified that Chauvin’s actions in the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd violated police training and ethics.
“When we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life,” Arradondo said Monday, “and when we talk about the principles and the values that we have, that action (holding a knee against Floyd’s neck) goes contrary to what we’re talking about.”
Another strong moment during Arradondo’s testimony: When he stated loudly and clearly that it’s the duty of officers to make sure that community members make it home alive.
That same day, police Inspector Katie Blackwell, who formerly led training for the department, said of Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck, “that’s not what we train.” On Friday, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving officer in the department, called Chauvin’s use of force “totally unnecessary.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testifies on April 5, 2021, in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. (Photo: AP)
A police chief (and anyone on the force for that matter) publicly testifying against officers is rare. One testifying against an officer in his own chain of command is historic.
And with the unprecedented public attention on this case, Arradondo’s testimony sends a loud signal down the chain of command and to police across the country to value truth and life above loyalty. If Chauvin is found guilty, these testimonies will represent a turning point in how individual cases of police misconduct are handled and promote a cultural change and greater accountability throughout law enforcement.
Landmark moment for communities of color
For those of us who come from communities disproportionately impacted by police misconduct, this is a landmark moment. Historically, the refusal of cops to testify against their own enabled abuse and sowed distrust in law enforcement.
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After the beating of Rodney King in 1991, Los Angeles’ Christopher Commission, (chaired by Warren Christopher, who later became secretary of State) concluded, “Perhaps the greatest single barrier to the effective investigation and adjudication of complaints is the officers’ unwritten ‘code of silence’ (the principle that) an officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer.”
The movement against police misconduct has been decades in the making. In the past eight years, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter enabled us to mobilize and inspire others on an unprecedented scale.
There have been hundreds of names we’ve rallied around as a movement in recent years, putting our bodies on the line for justice over and over. But the especially chilling and brutal killing of Floyd, occurring when Americans were a captive audience due to the pandemic, affected the hearts and minds of people across all backgrounds, political affiliations, ages and identities.
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While there were plenty of officers who used excessive force against protesters, we saw others come out in unprecedented ways to walk, talk and rally with them.
Chief successfully spoke to two worlds
But none of those moments (great as they were, they were few and far between) were as powerful as Arradondo on the witness stand. His language calling out the lack of accountability for fellow officers gave voice to the concerns of protesters of color like myself who have been battling misconduct for years, and officers. It was a welcome sign of change.
As a police chief of color, he straddles the line between loyalty to cops and loyalty to his community. We saw him navigate that well on Monday.
There have been courageous cops who have spoken up against the lack of accountability for fellow officers who abuse their power. These whistleblowers (rare as they have been) often become targets within their departments, or in the case of chiefs such as Arradondo, targets of police unions.
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But Arradondo has led in very effective ways when it comes to changing the culture of policing. He once sued his own police department for racial discrimination, and has also testified against an officer once before when Justine Ruszczyk was shot and killed after reporting a possible rape in 2017.
But those moments, disturbing as they were, weren’t as high profile as Floyd’s case.
Let’s demand that the wall of silence is torn down for good. Honor the memory of Floyd and other lives lost with a legacy of transparency and truth.
Carmen Perez is an award-winning civil and human rights leader and Chicana feminist, and the president and CEO of The Gathering for Justice.
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