Chauvin trial was a blow to rights workers fought for and need today

By Terry Evans
May 17, 2021

“Isn’t a just and working-class demand to prosecute, convict and jail killer cops?” reader Kyle Edwards asks in response to the Militant’s coverage of the trial and conviction of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.

We fight for the prosecution of cops who carry out brutal assaults, like the one inflicted by Derek Chauvin on George Floyd. But we don’t support undermining their right to protections working people have conquered in over 200 years of class struggle.

Cops do not exist to fight crime. Along with the courts, they are an essential part of the state apparatus that serves the ruling capitalist families and upholds social relations based on the exploitation of workers and farmers.

Time after time cops evade prosecution after carrying out assaults. But working people should never allow frustration at this fact to bolster calls for restrictions on legal and constitutional rights. No matter who is in the dock, any attack on these rights will always end up being used to deal blows to the working class.

Without an unequivocal defense of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the establishment of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and opposition to mob justice, the capitalist government’s hand will be strengthened. To these rights, the right to a trial by a jury of your peers and unanimous jury decisions must be added.

All these rights provide working people with some protection from the cops and courts. Millions of workers know from their own experience that cops, prosecutors and judges continually erode these rights, assuming workers are always guilty.

As working-class struggles deepen, cop assaults will target militant workers, our picket lines and unions. Working people will have to defend ourselves from frame-ups on the road to fighting for our emancipation and will need the right to due process.

That’s why class-conscious workers don’t join with capitalist politicians celebrating the conduct and outcome of Chauvin’s trial. Well before the trial began, the rulers decided the lesser-evil for their class was Chauvin’s conviction. That’s why they used their huge resources to rig the trial, trampling on due process and turning it into a mass public spectacle. Top Minneapolis law firms volunteered attorneys to join the prosecution, while Chauvin was abandoned by cop officials, who testified against him, and left him with minimal legal defense. Despite a huge military operation in downtown Minneapolis, which would inevitably effect the trial, the judge refused to change the trial’s venue.

Across the country, antifa forces and some Black Lives Matter leaders have ferreted out home addresses and other personal information of political opponents, urging retaliation. A defense witness had his home vandalized after testifying.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters threatened that protesters would “get more confrontational” if the verdict was “not guilty.” Before the jury could end its deliberations, President Joseph Biden weighed in calling the evidence “overwhelming.”

To be sure that Chauvin remained behind bars regardless of the trial, in blatant disregard for constitutional protections against double jeopardy, the Justice Department said it was prepared to arrest and indict the former cop after his trial on federal charges, if the jury failed to convict him. They now say they’re going to do so anyway.

Some liberals argue a trial of Chauvin wasn’t even necessary, because “we’ve all seen the video.” Chauvin’s indifference to Floyd’s obvious distress angered millions.

Virtually every capitalist newspaper repeated before and after the trial that Floyd died because Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. But the prosecution’s own medical expert, Andrew Baker, testified Floyd’s death was not caused by asphyxiation, but as a result of Chauvin’s restraint, not always with his knee on Floyd’s neck, but also on his back, leading to heart failure. Baker told the trial that Floyd’s use of fentanyl, as well as his underlying heart disease contributed to his death. Basic questions of fact were cast aside in almost all reporting to help get the “right” verdict.

Democrats and Republicans both seized on the trial to claim the “system works,” as they seek to convince working people to rely on them to reform the cops.

A statement by Doug Nelson, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Minneapolis mayor, pointed to the danger of calling for harsher sentences for Chauvin “than the evidence and standards of due process would normally allow.”  Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines that would likely mean he would get a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Prosecutors say they will file motions for additional penalties to make the sentence longer. Anything done to legitimize the use of long and vindictive sentences only helps strengthen a precedent that will be used against workers facing prison time.

This trial was not a victory for working people. It was a blow to crucial rights we need. It will not advance the just fight against police brutality.

When working people in Cuba made a thoroughgoing revolution in 1959, they did not “reform” the henchmen who policed the bloody rule of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Nor did they drag them through the streets and lynch them. Led by Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement, they disbanded Batista’s cops, replacing them with tested veterans of the revolutionary struggle. Some cops were put on trial, but initial moves to hold mass trials were halted by Castro, who explained they violated the revolution’s sense of justice. Some trials led to executions. Other cops were offered productive jobs. The new police force was built based on new class relations, where government attacks on working people are alien.

That powerful example remains one working people here should emulate.