What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Chauvin’s prosecutors reflect on the lessons from the trial

For three weeks, America and the world watched dozens of witnesses testify, and spent hours looking at video of George Floyd's murder at the trial of Derek Chauvin. Within days, other videos of deadly police encounters have renewed calls for racial justice. Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher, who led the prosecution for the state of Minnesota, join Judy Woodruff to consider the verdict's impact.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin gripped much of the nation.

    For three weeks, Americans and others around the world watched dozens of witnesses testify and spent hours looking at video of George Floyd's murder on replay.

    Chauvin was convicted on all counts, second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. And now he faces prison time.

    When the verdict came down, there was relief, celebrations and some said of degree of justice. But many said the Chauvin case was a rare exception when it comes to convicting officers who hurt or shoot citizens.

    And within days, other videos of deadly police encounters have brought renewed calls for racial justice.

    I'm joined now by the two attorneys who led the prosecution for the state of Minnesota. They are Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher.

    And we welcome both to have you to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for being here.

    Jerry Blackwell, I'm going to start with you.

    I understand the two of you had never met before this trial. You had not tried a criminal case before. You both did this work pro bono. Why was it important to you to take on this case?

  • Jerry Blackwell:

    Yes, I think I have described it as my own moral moment, a moment when you see something that so pierces your consciousness, your sense of right, your sense of justice, that you feel compelled to stand up to offer whatever resources you have within yourself, all of your abilities, to try to right this wrong.

    And, for me, it was that kind of moral moment. And I thought at the time that, if the opportunity presents, I will do and offer whatever I have for the cause of justice with respect to what I had just seen.

    And it was just happenstance that, within a week or two of thinking that, I did get a call from the attorney general asking if I would be a special prosecutor in this matter. I thought I would be behind the scenes, given that I had never handled a criminal case. I might help them with the strategy and the narratives and so on.

    That's not how it progressed. And the result was what you saw, was me presenting on TV and trying the case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Steve Schleicher, I want to direct this to you.

    The Wall Street Journal is preparing today 11 of the jurors, when they retired to the jury room, were ready to convict, but that there was one holdout, who did turn around, and quickly.

    But what does it say that, with the overwhelming evidence, including video evidence, that even one of these jurors was doubting? What does that say about the difficulty in prosecuting a case against a police officer?

  • Steve Schleicher:

    You know, I do think that's telling.

    And I tried to address in a little bit in my closing argument to the jury that we have biases that we don't even understand, we don't appreciate, we don't know that we have. And if you take a look at the bystanders in this case, after seeing a man murdered right in front of them, right in front of their eyes, their instinct was to call the police.

    Now, can you imagine any other group or organization that you could see its members commit this act in front of you, and, afterward, your first reaction would be to reach out to members of that same group and ask for help? And that's just — that's the way we're wired.

    We trust the police. We believe the police. We want to believe the police. And so it doesn't surprise me that a juror had questions and wanted to examine the case very thoroughly before making a decision, because that's just kind of what the nature of bias is.

    It's something you don't even understand you have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jerry Blackwell, it was really striking the number of police officers themselves who were prepared and did testify in this case against one of their own, including the chief of police.

    What — I want to ask you, what does that say about how critical that was to your case, that you had to have that many police lined up and saying that what Derek Chauvin did was wrong?

  • Jerry Blackwell:

    Well, we obviously knew that it would be very hard to get a conviction against the police. The history and the track record speaks to that.

    So, I can't say that we needed to have that many police, but we weren't taking the chance of having fewer than that many police. It really spoke to the leadership of Chief Arradondo, how he takes seriously the notion of good policing and upholding the sanctity of life as the highest ideal for policing.

    And I think it was a wonderful example to the country about the ways in which the police can be the ones who are policing the police and stand up against bad policing. Standing up against bad policing is good for good police.

    And we were pleased that the chief did it. We think it was very persuasive and influential, probably more so than any expert we could have called, would be the other men and women in blue to stand up to say that this was not proper policing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up on that…

  • Steve Schleicher:

    Just to comment on that further, the Graham…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

  • Steve Schleicher:

    You know, the Graham vs. Connor standard from the U.S. Supreme Court sets the question as, what would a reasonable police officer do in those circumstances?

    And so who better to ask than other police officers? They tend to carry more weight than others. And so having this many officers stand up and say, no, this isn't policing, this isn't what we do, this isn't what we're about, we do think that was persuasive.

    But it does take an act of personal courage on the part of those officers. We're all expected, police officers and all of us, to stand up to our adversaries. That's what's expected of us. In some ways ,that's the easy thing.

    Standing up to our colleagues, standing up to our friends, that takes a certain amount of personal courage. That can be difficult. And I commend them for doing so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jerry Blackwell, I want to come back to you.

    You said recently everybody should be a fan of good policing. But we know, at least we are reading, that some police, perhaps many police, are looking at this verdict and looking at what's happening in the country and thinking about whether they should reconsider their careers.

    We're hearing people talk about concerns that it may be hard to recruit police in the future. What should — do you believe, the lesson from this trial should be for police across this country?

  • Jerry Blackwell:

    Well, I hope the lesson and the message from this trial for police across the country is that good policing is respected, good policing is upheld, good policing is something everybody wants.

    Even those who would argue about dismantling the police are still opposed to being abused or being the victims of violence and so on. Good policing is about opposing that.

    What the trial stands for, in my view, is that excesses in policing — that is, the wanton abuse of members of public, the disrespect of dishonoring the badge — can't be tolerated. And I hope that most police officers won't think that the margin is really that thin that they have to be that concerned about it.

    And I think that's not warranted from the verdict. As with the rest of us who have jobs where we have to care for the public or for others, it's fairly well understood that, if you're not really interested in doing your job, you probably shouldn't have the job. And I think that applies for the police also.

    But the verdict isn't about going after all police. It's simply addressing excesses and abuses in policing. And the margin isn't really that close.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Steve Schleicher, what about you? What should not just police, but what should the country, do you think, take away from this trial and from the verdict?

  • Steve Schleicher:

    You know, I think that — that's such a big question.

    You know, in terms of police officers and recruiting, I think, if you don't have the heart of a public servant, you shouldn't be a police officer. I have worked for — worked with police officers for over two decades.

    And the men and women I worked with, I believe, had the heart of a public servant and did do good policing and support the verdict. As far as members of the public, I think people need to step up and do what they can to try to make the world a better place, really.

    I mean, this case was a lot about empathy and about compassion and about recognizing the humanity of people, of your fellow person. And I think that all of us need to take a little bit more time to consider what we do, what we say, what we say to people.

    I look at some comments and things of people online. We have this sort of anonymous system of being able to criticize and lash out at each other online, things that you would never think of saying to someone's face. I think we need to consider that, too, to kind of take a deep breath and recognize each other's humanity.

    And I think that a better world will follow from that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Take a deep breath, and that has more than one meaning in this case.

    Steve Schleicher, Jerry Blackwell, thank you both. We so appreciate your joining us today.

  • Jerry Blackwell:

    Thank you.

  • Steve Schleicher:

    Thank you so much.

Listen to this Segment