SALT LAKE CITY — The guilty verdicts handed down against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin marked a historic moment in recent U.S. history as millions around the country followed the trial to find out the fate of the man charged with killing George Floyd last May.
Community and civic leaders now must determine what can be done to create ongoing peace and civility between law enforcement and the people they serve, including some minority groups who have lost trust in systems or organizations they deem institutionally biased.
Roderic Land is an ordained minister who also holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois in educational policy with an emphasis in critical race theory and sociology. He’s done extensive research on social justice, racial attitudes and race relations in America. He is also a previous chairman of the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission.
The Deseret News asked him six questions reflecting on the outcome of the Chauvin case and what may lie ahead for communities in Utah and nationwide as they consider how policing could change in order to keep the peace while also building trust with the people law enforcement serves. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: Given the verdicts in the Derek Chauvin case, what is the work or conversation that now needs to occur in the nation?
Roderic Land: I would certainly say that it’s centered around criminal justice and police reform because I think that’s what the world saw with George Floyd. I would argue that it really shook law enforcement. And even though this may be somewhat considered a unique case with Chauvin, I think it does begin to open the eyes of law enforcement and also communities that began to think about what needs to happen as it relates to de-escalation and how you police in communities. Because clearly the way that we are doing it now is not working ... although I will suggest that some people may argue that is doing exactly what is supposed to be doing. But nevertheless, I think that shook a lot of people, and the conversation that needs to be had now is, “How do we begin to better train our law enforcement, but then also, “How do we help them to engage communities more specifically, communities of color, in a much less violent and threatening way.
Deseret News: Is it the same conversation for both the Black community and the non-Black community?
Roderic Land: I would say yes, because I think as both Black and brown, white, Asian and Pacific Islander, all are impacted by this, and even though I would argue that when it’s a white law enforcement agent or officer committing these heinous crimes on Blacks, it gets a lot more scrutiny because of the history that’s there. It’s not to suggest that it doesn’t happen to different communities of color also, that it does not suggest law enforcement doesn’t also use unnecessary force against whites as well. That’s why I think it’s a conversation to be had by all Americans to think about how do we best reimagine, if you will, law enforcement.
Deseret News: Do you think this is something that might happen again, where a police officer is held accountable in this way?
Roderic Land: The fact that you had a trial with a police officer was an anomaly. If you think about all the officer-involved incidents that have transpired within the past 5 to 10 years, very few have gone to trial in this way. And so I would say that I’m hopeful, believe it or not, that it will begin to usher in a culture of accountability to law enforcement. But there’s also this hesitancy, this fear, because I know the history that’s there — that it may not bring forth what we hoped that it would bring forth.
Deseret News: Are there takeaways for society at-large?
Roderic Land: What the video that was shown is that hopefully it brings to light the humanity of all races. For the simple fact that you have Brother Floyd calling for his mother — a human at the hands of another human being choking the life out of him essentially. So, in some weird, crazy way Floyd was human in that moment. Many people who may fear his stature and his race and see a big monster. But that moment, when he was crying for his mother, he was humanized. That is what I will argue tugged at the heartstrings of America, and not just America but the world. So I think the biggest takeaway is to suggest that somehow we have to start seeing each other as human beings and as brothers and sisters, period.
Deseret News: There was some sentiment that the more aggressive activism of last summer made a difference. What do you think is making a difference?
Roderic Land: There are many battles to this front with this movement to talk about criminal justice reform, it’s going to be many battles on many fronts in the same way that the activism took place last year throughout the entire year. There was a role for that. At the same time, we have individuals who are the family members of the victims who are killed, arguing for and calling for peace — who are they going listened to? And as we think about with George Floyd and this bill that’s been introduced in his name, I would argue it’s because of all of the culminating events that have transpired throughout the years — both the more aggressive activism, but also the one kind of activism that is found within congressional halls. The one that is actually trying to do it in a more peaceful fashion. So I will say that it takes all of them.
Deseret News: What can be done to bridge the divide between Black and blue?
Roderic Land: Proximity. I do believe that police officers should live in the communities in which they are serving and protecting, and until that happens and they are more true authentic engagements beyond just police engaging people based upon their infractions, it’s not going to change. And it’s going to require a step in both directions, both from the community as well as from law enforcement. But who takes that first step? I would say law enforcement has to take that first step because communities of color have always been there. How do we begin to help police officers see that, “Yeah, these people of color are also human and they are there.” The police officers are there to serve and protect.