UNH Faculty responds to the Derek Chauvin Trial and Murder of George Floyd


Rhianwen Watkins

On Tuesday, April 20, the jury’s verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial was read, finding former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.  

In a criminal trial such as Chauvin’s, the state must bring charges and allege that the police officer committed a crime and show beyond a reasonable doubt which is the highest burden of proof in the law, that the officer can be held responsible for each and every element of the crime, according to University of New Hampshire law professor, John Greabe. 

“George Floyd’s death is an extension of a very long historical trend,” said UNH sociology professor, Cliff Brown. He added that violence against Black people has been a long-standing problem not only at the hands of police, but even going back to the 1800s with slavery, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the lynching era, and the rise of mass incarceration which continued through the 1900’s and still persists today. 

“The Black community have been talking about this stuff for years. We’ve been trying to explain police violence for years and its one of the first times where we had our platform where people were willing to listen,” said Nadine Petty, chief diversity officer and associate vice president for community, equity and diversity, at UNH. She explained that what made this case extra poignant was the manner in which he was killed, and the way that Chauvin was so nonchalant, with his hands in his pockets, seemingly completely unfazed.  

Following George Floyd’s murder were many Black Lives Matter protests across the country, demanding justice for Floyd and other Black Americans killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, many others. 

One thing that can be taken away from the trial is the power of social movements and collective action, Brown mentioned. He added that the verdict wasn’t a direct result of the activism, but it did bring about a shift in public consciousness, especially among white community members, in the wake of the George Floyd’s death and the trial. 

There are different ideas on how to combat police violence, specifically towards Black communities, including the concepts of reforming, defunding, and abolishing the police. 

Petty explained that abolishing the police would essentially be completely eradicating it and having governance in a different way. Defunding would mean removing financial support from police departments, and reforming would mean making positive changes to the police force. 

  “I don’t think that abolishing the police force is a smart way forward. Law enforcement is necessary, law enforcement is needed for all kinds of reasons,” said Petty. “What we need, however, is law enforcement we can trust, law enforcement that keeps all community members safe regardless of background or identity and so for that to happen I think reform is what’s important.” 

Nadine explained changes would include retraining on use of force, identifying implicit bias, and specifically not buying into the harmful stereotypes of Black communities.  

“I think the solution is likely to differ depending on where in the country you’re talking about,” said Brown. He added that the focus should be on “precincts or communities that have a demonstrable record of problematic treatment” of communities of color. “I do think it needs to be a more granular kind of approach where we go state by state and community by community to see what makes sense.” 

“He [Chauvin] does not represent all of us, he represents himself,” said UNH Chief of Police, Paul Dean. 

 “Minneapolis just reinvested several million dollars back into the police department after cutting it,” said Dean in response to the concept of abolishing the police. He went on to explain that even though social workers and psychologists may be qualified to work with people regarding mental health crises, such as suicidal calls of which Dean said he receives between 80-100 per year, they, without a police officer present, may not be equipped to be placed in situations that could potentially be dangerous to them. 

“I do believe that the police shouldn’t be handling all these public health matters. We’ve been the dumping grounds to society for all these things, and it’s time to take a look at those things but you also need to make sure that you make these changes, that you do it right so that its sustainable,” added Dean. 

Dean explained that an important point that we must acknowledge is how policing came into existence. He said that policing began when the Democratic Party created the system to control enslaved people.  “We have to do a better job training all our officers to understand that that beginning has to be accepted and a light shined on it and understood for there to be any kind of healing with communities of color.” 

Brown added that indirect measures such as raising the minimum wage, making affordable housing and education more accessible, and taxing the wealthy more than we do would help ease some of the racial and economic disparities.  

“People who are privileged by virtue of their race or their socioeconomic class, I think they have a responsibility to be educated,” said Brown. “They have a responsibility to speak out.”  

Chauvin’s sentencing is scheduled to take place June 25 at 1:30 p.m.  

“If justice were really eminent, George Floyd would still be alive,” said Petty. “Justice is just equality and equity across the board. Justice doesn’t happen after equality and equity has been shown to not exist.” 

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.