Testimony in Derek Chauvin’s trial shows wildly contrasting views of police work

Testimony in Derek Chauvin’s trial shows wildly contrasting views of police work

Although libertarian journalist/author Radley Balko is right-of-center politically and has been active in the Cato Institute, he has been a blistering critic of police overreach — especially with the War on Drugs. Some far-right pundits have accused Balko of being anti-police, which he isn't. Favoring reforms in police work does not make him anti-law enforcement. And Balko, in an April 7 column for the Washington Post, stresses that Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis underscores the dramatically different philosophies of police work in the United States.

Chauvin is the former Minneapolis police officer who is facing criminal charges in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The horrific images of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck have been seen all over the world, from Uruguay to Japan to the Czech Republic, and inspired countless protests.

Chauvin's trial, the 45-year-old Balko explains, has demonstrated that in police work, there are "de-escalationists" and "no-hesitationists." The journalist/author describes "de-escalationists" as "a product of the criminal justice reform movement" who "accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability."

"The other side — let's call them 'no-hesitationists' — asserts that police officers aren't aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk," Balko explains. "They see law enforcement officers as warriors and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good…. Though the two approaches are inherently at odds, each has managed to exert its influence in U.S. law enforcement, dividing public officials and politicians like a magnet pushing through a pile of iron filings."

During his years writing for the libertarian Reason, Balko — author of the 2013 book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces" — reported extensively on abuses of the War on Drugs and all the times narcotics officers killed or injured innocent people when they conducted no-knock raids on the wrong house. The people Balko describes as "no-hesitationists" are apologists for such abuses.

Balko observes, "The trial of Chauvin, an officer unabashedly of the 'no hesitation' school, has put this battle for American policing front and center…. Floyd, suspected of a minor, nonviolent crime, had told the officers he was claustrophobic and feared getting shot, and cried out for his deceased mother. The footage shows a scared, shattered man pleading for mercy. Chauvin saw only a potential threat that needed to be suppressed."

The use of the phrase "defund the police" has been debated among "justice for George Floyd" protesters. Many liberals and progressives have been stressing that they are opposed to defunding law enforcement — especially in cities with high crime rates — and that their goal is to "reform the police" rather than "defund the police."

But proponents of what Balko describes as the "no hesitation" view of police work see no need for reforms, and Balko warns that there are still plenty of them in law enforcement.

"While the George Floyd protests spurred a flurry of de-escalationist police reform around the country, changing police culture will be a massive undertaking," Balko emphasizes. "The no-hesitationists remain a powerful force, and they aren't going away."

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