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Friday, June 18, 2021

UC Davis community responds to Derek Chauvin verdict

Campus leaders and students shared the view that the guilty verdict does not indicate the U.S. justice system has dramatically shifted its practices in terms of police accountability and promoting racial justice

Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on April 20. In a statement issued that same day, Chancellor Gary May shared his response to Chauvin’s guilty verdict, expressing hopefulness.

“We join others across the nation in expressing relief that justice was served,” May said in his statement. “We’re optimistic that this decision may represent an inflection point, where we begin to overcome racial and social injustices that have been pervasive in policing.”

Joseph Farrow, the UC Davis chief of police, was in his office when the news broke. Farrow said that he knew Chauvin would be convicted.

“I just believed in my heart that it was going to come out as a guilty verdict,” Farrow said. 

Many world leaders issued statements in support of the verdict. 

In reference to Former President Barack Obama’s statement, Farrow said that he agrees with the sentiment that holding Chauvin accountable is only a first step toward reconciling a deeply flawed justice system.

“I think that what President Obama is saying is really what we’ve been saying at UC Davis,” Farrow said. “We have to incorporate more restorative, holistic approaches to figure out what are the root causes of crime.”

The New York Times highlighted how exceptionally rare it is for a police officer to be convicted of murder, reporting that the chance of conviction for a police killing is approximately one in 2,000. 

“When officers are put up on charges of murder [or] manslaughter, a lot of the times the trial courts have to look at the officer, the performance of their duty,” Farrow said. “There are these different standards that are enacted across the country: some are statutory and some are Supreme Court decisions that have these standards and thresholds that prosecutors have to overcome. It is a difficult standard sometimes for [prosecutors to overcome].”

There are a variety of safeguards sheltering police officers which some activists and lawmakers argue make civil and criminal accountability unobtainable. 

Kevin Johnson, the dean of the UC Davis School of Law, said that qualified immunity, a doctrine which protects police officers and other government officials in civil lawsuits, has been critiqued as being too protective of police officers. 

La’Nae Jackson, a third-year African American Studies major, serves as the academic peer advisor for the African and African American Studies department. She said lawmakers and politicians oftentimes block the meaningful efforts of activists. 

“It is hard not to notice all of the strides and efforts being taken by organizers within our country to achieve true racial justice, but it is also clear the ways politicians implement laws that oppose this progression,” Jackson said via email.

Johnson echoed the prevalent sentiment that a single, rare conviction doesn’t signify that the fight for racial justice has been won.

“True justice is a society in which systemic racism is eradicated,” Johnson said in an email. “That is a goal and aspiration and one that we should work toward.”

Johnson said that police brutality and civil unrest prompted the administration to put on the racial justice speaker series at King Hall starting September 2020 and running through April 2021.

“The killings of African Americans by police led to the creation of a racial justice speaker series at the law school, which included public defenders, scholars, and political leaders including mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento,” Johnson said via email.

Johnson said he is cautiously optimistic about the future of police accountability in the U.S.

“Public attention to police accountability holds the promise of true change,” Johnson said via email.

Kirin Rajagopalan, a second-year cultural studies graduate student, is a member of the UC Davis Cops off Campus group and an abolitionist. Rajagopalan said that the prison industrial complex will never bring justice or accountability. 

“It’s not abolitionist to argue that killer cops need to go to jail,” Rajagopalan said. “We want the entire system gone. Chauvin going to jail doesn’t do anything.”

Students who are struggling can access mental health resources by making an appointment with Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS). SHCS is available to support students navigating pain over police brutality and can connect students with other resources. There are also racial trauma resources available.
Written by: Rebecca Gardner — campus@theaggie.org

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