President Biden had admitted he was “praying” for the “right verdict” and a Minneapolis court delivered just that this week, in an era-defining day for the US. Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, a black security guard who had lost his job during the pandemic. This episode has seen the simmering racial tensions of the country spill over, triggering mass protests under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter.
There is an important takeaway for India here. Floyd was killed in May 2020. Amidst the tumultuous aftermath, the country’s justice delivery system worked fast. Chauvin was found guilty by a 12-member jury in less than a year following a trial which was covered widely by the media. For sure, the justice delivery system was helped by ubiquitous mobile phones that captured the last moments in Floyd’s life in excruciating detail. The essential fact is justice was delivered quickly. It’s a prerequisite to build trust in a system. By way of contrast, the Indian judicial system’s backlog running into millions of cases builds distrust among citizens.
Another aspect of the trial that is relevant is the nature of police response. Floyd was picked up following an allegation that he used a counterfeit note to buy cigarettes. The sequence of events led to Chauvin kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, unmindful of the victim repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Prosecution’s evidence included a police chief who observed that Chauvin violated protocol. India has often seen custodial deaths and other police excesses. Like in the US, it’s hard to get a conviction of police officials who violate norms. We hope the George Floyd trial will catalyse some change here too, to hold rogue police officials to account.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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