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George Floyd case will put legal protections of police on full display, law professor says

George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers amplified the Black Lives Matter movement and ignited a racial reckoning in America. The question now, says Northwestern University political scientist Alvin Tillery, is will his family get justice in his case? 

Last week, a $27 million civil settlement was announced between the city of Minneapolis and Floyd’s family. However, the attorney for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged in Floyd’s death, has raised concerns about the timing of the settlement and its impact on jury selection.

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law professor Sheila Bedi says Supreme Court decisions provide police officers with significant legal protections in both the criminal and civil contexts. “This trial will put these protections — and the power of the police to engage in deadly violence — on full display.”

Bedi and Tillery are available to comment on the case. 

Tillery is an associate professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy. His research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics, and media and politics. He can be reached at alvin.tillery@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Tillery
“There is no doubt that the outrage vented in the Black Lives Matter protests are the reason that Derek Chauvin has been charged in this case. The dilemma going forward is that the same public pressure that led Minnesota prosecutors to bring charges in this case might now be used as a tool by his defense attorneys to game the jury selection process. 

“As with so many cases involving the racially charged dynamics of our society, the outcome of this case will hinge on whether or not people of color will be able to participate in the jury process. If the defense succeeds in limiting the participation of people of color, I think that it will make it much more difficult to get a conviction in this case. In the event that there is not a conviction, we can expand that the Black Lives Matter movement will continue to shift their rapidly expanding political power toward enacting legislative reforms that will make it easier to hold police officers accountable for these killings.”

Bedi is a clinical professor of law at Northwestern Law and director of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic, a law school clinic that provides students with the opportunities to work within social-justice movements on legal and policy strategies aimed at redressing over-policing and mass imprisonment. Bedi litigates civil-rights claims on behalf of people who have endured police violence and abusive prison conditions. She can be reached at sheila.bedi@law.northwestern.edu.

 Quote from Professor Bedi
“George Floyd’s death at the hands of Officer Chauvin reignited an international movement demanding the defunding of police and a reckoning for all the systems that prop up white supremacy — including the criminal legal system. Supreme Court decisions provide police officers with significant legal protections in both the criminal and civil contexts.

"This trial will put these protections — and the power of the police to engage in deadly violence — on full display. But Officer Chauvin’s trial is inherently limited; it’s focused solely on the interaction between these men. Regardless of the jury verdict here, a single criminal trial cannot redress the harms of white supremacy or remedy the violence inherent in policing.”