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Despite MN Convictions, Police Accountability Elusive

Even though former police officers Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter were found guilty of killing civilians in Minnesota, the numbers of people killed in encounters with police have remained steady at an alarming level, reports the New York Times. Since Mr. Floyd’s death in May of last year, 1,646 people have been killed by the police, about three people per day on average, says Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit that tracks people killed by the police. Although murder or manslaughter charges against officers have increased, criminal charges, much less convictions, remain exceptionally rare. That underscores both the benefit of the doubt usually accorded law officers who often make life-or-death decisions in a split second and the way the law and the power of police unions often protect officers. Chris Uggen, a sociology and law professor at the University of Minnesota, said that even though the number of people killed by police remained high, high-profile cases could still send a message to the police. “The probability of punishment is not zero,” he said. “So it moves the needle to some degree, and it can certainly affect the behaviors of police officers.”

Other experts are reluctant to read too much into a few isolated cases in the glare of media scrutiny. “Criminal trials are not designed to be instruments of change,” said Georgetown University law Prof., Paul Butler, a former prosecutor. “Criminal trials are about bringing individual wrongdoers to justice. So while there have been high-profile prosecutions of police officers for killing Black people, that doesn’t in and of itself lead to the kind of systemic reform that might reduce police violence.” Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, who tracks police criminal charges and convictions, believes the number of deaths from excessive police force was higher than what was recorded and reflected in news coverage. “Many police officers exhibit a fear of Black people,” he said. “Until we can address that, it is very difficult to bring about meaningful reforms.”

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