CHICAGO (CBS) — A local expert on Tuesday said the conviction of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd will be a defining moment for many young people seeking change, and will serve also as a lesson in Chicago that such convictions are possible.
Sharon Fairley is now a professor from practice at the University of Chicago Law School. Previously, she oversaw the Independent Police Review Authority in Chicago, which has since been supplanted by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
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Fairley joined CBS 2’s Brad Edwards and Irika Sargent to talk about the historic verdict on Thursday. Edwards began by asking Fairley if the Chauvin verdict amounted to a potential pivot point for people who are calling for change at police departments and policing practices across the country.
“Absolutely it is. This is going to be a defining moment for many young people, and of course, young Black people,” Fairley said. “This conviction is historic for a number of reasons. It starts with what happened last year – that the idea, the outrage from last year actually got turned into and focused into reform, and so we’ve seen a number of really important historic police reform measures being passed at the state level, for example, in the last year. We see many cities, large and small, beefing up their accountability systems. And so this incident and the aftermath has really, really put the wind in the sails of activists, who have really taken the activism and made it work for positive change.”
Sargent noted that in Chicago, we have seen a number of police officers go on trial on criminal charges. Notably in recent years, Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of murder in the 2014 death of Laquan McDonald.
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Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer convicted of murder for an on-duty incident in more than 50 years.
He was convicted in 2018 of second-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery — one count for each time he shot Laquan McDonald – but was acquitted of one count of official misconduct.
Van Dyke had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but the defense had asked the jury to be allowed to consider a verdict on second-degree murder instead of first-degree. In order to do so, they were required to determine the prosecution proved the elements of first-degree murder, that the defense has shown Van Dyke believed he was justified in shooting McDonald, but that his belief was not a reasonable one.
Fairley said the Chauvin verdict shows that convictions against officers that might be seen as steeper are possible in Chicago and beyond.
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“Well, I think the reason why we have this historic conviction on all counts here, including the most serious changes, is based on the fact that the video was such compelling evidence,” she said. “But it’s also because the prosecutors put in a really airtight case. They put in a fantastic case that was really hard to break holes in. And so hopefully, Chicago will learn from this experience – it is possible to get these convictions, even as hard as it is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when we’re trying police officers. It is possible.”