There is so much going on in the world today; so much going on in the United States. Our “worlds” have changed so much in the last six months. Many people have succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic, some businesses have failed, there was a Twitter hack, and the enormous black lives matter protest, among others. The latter is mainly the focus of this paper. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, anti-racism protests led by the hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #ICantBreath have been common in the U.S. #ICantBreath came out of the incident where a police officer murdered a black man, even after wailing that he could not breathe. This event relates to an ongoing systematic racism and police brutality, which are approached from a criminal justice perspective in this paper.
The Link Between the Killing of George Floyd And the U.S. Criminal Justice System
On May 25th, 2020, between 8 pm and 9 pm, Minneapolis arrested and killed 46 years old Black man by kneeling and pinning him to the ground. The New York Times reports that Minneapolis police officers had been alerted that George Floyd – the deceased, had paid for cigarettes using a counterfeit $20 bill (Hill et al., 2020). The police department was prompt to respond, and four officers found Floyd. The police report, as reported by Cramer et al. (2020), indicates that Floyd resisted arrest, which led to a fatal turn of events. The New York Times analysis of the video footage from a security and a bystander camera reveal that officer Derek Chauvin forcefully pulled Floyd out of the car, hitting him to the ground, and handcuffed him as offers Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane held his back and legs (Cramer et al., 2020). Officer Tou Thao watched this all the time. Then offer Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds (Hill et al., 2020). This time – based on analysis of the surveillance and the bystander’s camera conflict reported at the police statements (seven minutes and 46 seconds) (Hill et al., 2020). Floyd collapsed and died due to suffocation, but Chauvin continued pinning him to the ground. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while the other three officers were charged with abetting and aiding a second-degree murder (Hill et al., 2020). Chauvin is currently (as of November 20th, 2020) released after posting a one-million-dollar bail on October 8th, 2020, pending trial on March 8th, 2021.
Relation with The Criminal Justice System
This event is related to the criminal justice system by its fundamental structure and mandates. The U.S. criminal justice system consists of the police, the courts, and correctional facilities. Each of these functions has roles that collectively ensure the reduction of crime in the community.
The role of the police is to enforce laws and ensure public order. It is important to note that there is no unified national police force in the U.S., but police officers work under federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. They work under the agencies, guided by the agencies’ policies and state laws (Garner et al., 2018). Thus, the policing sector’s purpose is to uphold the laws of the jurisdiction of operation, provide patrol, and investigate crimes concerning the jurisdiction of operation. For instance, in this case, Floyd’s use of a counterfeit $20 bill happened in Minneapolis. Thus, the Minneapolis police officers would answer and handle the situation according to the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies. Then they would have taken Floyd to the relevant court in Minneapolis.
Courts are systems mandated by the constitution to make decisions based on law. These are of two types – the federal courts and the state courts. Federal courts decide on federal matters, and the president selects their judges with Congress’s consensus. A state court can be a trial court, appellate court, or a state supreme court. Criminal cases are thus heard in trial courts for each jurisdiction, where the judge (sometimes without a jury) decides the case. The losing side may appeal to the appellate court or the state supreme court. Referencing Floyd’s event, the police ought to have taken him to the local trial court for a hearing. However, the outcomes of the event were fatal and incriminated the police officers involved. Thus, they were charged accordingly, and Chauvin was held in at Oak Park Heights state prison pending trial. As stated earlier, Chauvin was released on bail, which is following the U.S. court bailing system (Dabney et al., 2017). Until the hearing of his case on March 8th, 2021, the court has allowed time for investigation, from which evidence will help the judge and the jury convict or acquit. If convicted, Chauvin will be incarcerated.
Incarceration is executed in the third function of the criminal justice system – correctional facilities. These are also called prisons and mandated to supervise convicts, people under arrest, or those already sentenced. The apparent effect of the correction function is to create sanctions for wrongdoing. However, Kifer et al. (2020) identify correctional facilities’ goals as retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. Thus, various programs and processes are put in correctional systems to ensure successful achievement of these goals and change of convicts into better citizens than they came into the system. That relates to Floyds event in that if the court finds Chauvin guilty, he will be incarcerated. According to Kifer et al. (2020), the term and programs will ensure that he is retributed, deterred, incapacitated, and rehabilitated off of his third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Unless sentenced to death or a life sentence, the correctional system will be obliged to release him (after the period sentenced) as a better citizen, admissible into society.
Reason for Choosing This Event
I have chosen this event because it concerns a sensitive issue – racial discrimination and excessive use of force by police, which significantly involves the U.S. criminal justice system and because it is current. Since the killing of George Floyd, many news publications like the BBC, TheConversation, abcnews, the washingtonpost among others, opinionated that the event was a reveal of a pandemic of racism in the world. Thus, I chose to make a consensus that the event is a representation of racial discrimination. This has in many reports and studies associated with the criminal justice system. For instance, Weitzer (1996) found methodological and analytical deficiencies in the criminal justice system, which institutionalized racism. While that was in the late 90s, recent U.N. report and studies reveal the involvement of the criminal justice system in the persistence of the racial disparities (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2018; Kovera, 2019; United Nations, 2018). Alexander (2020) has further described the situation as the New Jim Crow laws, which have institutionalized racial discrimination through the criminal justice system. Racial discrimination, and especially in policing, come hard with police brutality (Schwartz, 2020). Police brutality and racism have featured in many contexts, but three years before this event, a study had related police brutality on Black Americans, and citing among other effects, deterioration of health and death (Alang et al., 2017). Thus, this event is relevant and current to a critical situation within the criminal justice system.
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A Critical Approach
Floyd’s event mostly involves the fourth amendment of the U.S. constitution. It protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. It is often challenging for civilians to map a line between reasonable and unreasonable search and seizure. The Law Information Institute defines an unreasonable search and seizure as that which is not warranted or without probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime (“Unreasonable search and seizure,” n.d.). In Floyd’s situation, the police officers were cleared under the fourth amendment to search and seize him. However, Floyd resisted arrests as seen in the video footage and reported in the police statement (Hill et al., 2020). It is also imperative to note that the use of force in search and seizures is discretion (Kovera, 2019). That is, officers judge a situation to decide whether there is probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime and the amount of force to use. In this case, it might be argued that there was probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime since Floyd resisted arrest. However, the measure of police force used is arguably unreasonable. According to CBS Minnesota – a media house, Minnesota police departments are trained that pinning someone down at the neck is inherently dangerous (2020). It is among the handcuffing techniques used when dealing with a dangerous criminal, as the technique is considered a deadly force. Additionally, the event concerns a murder, as defined in 18 U.S. Code § 1111. In this case, Chauvin is accused of third-degree murder (manslaughter) and second-degree murder. According to 18 U.S. Code § 1111, murder is killing a human being with malice aforethought. The way Chauvin handled the situation fits this definition by law. For instance, he knelt on Floyd’s neck for so long until he had collapsed and died. This was a violation of the U.S. murder law. Lastly, the aiding officers are involved in complicity. While Chauvin principally made the killing, his teammates aided and or witnessed the forceful use of force, which led to Floyd’s death.
The Future of Criminal Justice Regarding Racism and Police Brutality
I think Floyd’s demise was the beginning of a critical debate that will affect America’s criminal justice system. One of the immediate observations is that the world has changed a lot within the last six months. It began with the massive protests throughout the U.S., backed in solidarity by other anti-racism activists worldwide. Racial discrimination in the criminal justice systems and police brutality have existed in the U.S. for a long time; however, this event shed light on the situation and attracted significant attention.
Congress is one of the significant bodies that have thus far looked into the matter, aiming to change the criminal justice system’s functionalities. In June, the House passed a broad Democratic-backed policy that would correct the law enforcement practices. The Senate also joined to make changes that would focus on police accountability and immunity provisions (Associated Press, 2020). Other propositions included revamping police training and banning chokeholds, which have been backed by the current president erect – Joe Biden (Associated Press, 2020). While the bill is yet to be passed, it will be valuable to ending systemic racism and police brutality from Floyd’s case.
While the Congress approach majorly addresses the police use of force, there is a need for all criminal justice system functions’ inclusivity. The United Nations report reveals how White Americans are more likely than Black Americans to receive bail (2018). As such, factors have prompted many questions about why Chauvin was allowed a $1 million bail when charged with third- and second-degree murder. Nevertheless, the experts within the court function acknowledge the crisis (Cote, 2020). Such perception offers confidence that the ongoing struggle for social justice will come to an end.
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For the last six months, a lot has changed in the U.S. One of the significant events is the black lives matter protest, which was prompted by a police officer’s killing of Floyd. This event is related to the criminal justice system since its structure – the police, courts, and correctional facilities. Firstly, the police were primarily involved in the killing of Floyd. The court will decide the case, and if found guilty, the ex-police officers will be held in a correctional system. However, the criminal justice system suffers from critical issues – racial discrimination and police brutality. The killing of Floyd has spotlighted these issues, and they are likely to change in the future with the implementation of policies that support social justice. Congress proposes policies that will address police training and policing practices.
“Unreasonable search and seizure.” (n.d) LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved November 30th 2020, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/unreasonable_search_and_seizure#:~:text=An%20unreasonable%20search%20and%20seizure,of%20a%20crime%20is%20present.
Alang, S., McAlpine, D., McCreedy, E., & Hardeman, R. (2017). Police Brutality and Black Health: Setting the Agenda for Public Health Scholars. Am J Public Health, 107(5), 662-665. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303691
Alexander, M. (2020). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. NEW Press.
Associated Press. (2020). Democrats prepare sweeping police reform bills after George Floyd’s death. NBC News. Retrieved November 30th 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/democrats-prepare-police-reform-bills-after-george-floyd-s-death-n1224636.
CBS Minnesota. (2020). Former MPD Officer Derek Chauvin In Custody, Charged With Murder In George Floyd’s Death. Minnesota.cbslocal.com. Retrieved November 30th 2020, from https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/05/29/derek-chauvin-arrested-george-floyd-death-minneapolis-police-officer/.
Cote, J. (2020). Criminal Justice Panel | George Floyd | SNHU. Snhu.edu. Retrieved November 30th 2020, from https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2020/06/justice-matters-panel.
Cramer, M., Hauser, C., Taylor, D., Vigdor, N., Burch, A., & Eligon, J. et al. (2020). What We Know About the Death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Nytimes.com. Retrieved November 30th 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd.html.
Dabney, D., Page, J., & Topalli, V. (2017). American Bail and the Tinting of Criminal Justice. The Howard Journal Of Crime And Justice, 56(4), 397-418. https://doi.org/10.1111/hojo.12212
Dymond, A. (2019). Towards a socio-technical understanding of discretion: A case study of taser and police use of force. Policing and Society, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2019.1660338