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Opinion | The blue wall of silence has broken in the Chauvin trial, but that doesn't absolve the police

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"ONE OF the things this case is not about is all police or all policing." That is what the prosecution told the jury in opening arguments in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd. Driving home that point, prosecutors have called to the witness stand a number of police officers to testify against Derek Chauvin, and all of whom condemned how he knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. The spectacle of so many officers testifying against one of their own was unusual and a welcome break from the so-called blue wall of silence that has long enabled police misconduct. However, the singling out of Mr. Chauvin doesn't give a pass to Minneapolis or other cities for the systemic issues that have fueled brutality against people of color.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a 36-year veteran of the force, was among the first officers to be called in the closely watched trial, and he didn't mince his words. "Pulling him down to the ground facedown, and putting your knee on the neck for that amount of time, it's just uncalled for," he testified, based on his viewing of video from officers' body-worn cameras. Lt. Johnny Mercil, use-of-force training coordinator for the department, said the type of neck restraint used on Floyd was an "unauthorized" act of aggression. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Mr. Chauvin "absolutely" violated police protocols. "When we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life," the chief said, "and when we talk about the principles and the values that we have, that action [pressing a knee against Floyd's neck] goes contrary to what we're talking about."

But, as The Post's James Hohmann noted, Chief Arradondo also went out of his way to defend police, saying he believes policing in the United States is more professional than any other country. He testified that Minneapolis spent about $13 million on training last year, and that every officer, himself included, is annually retrained about best practices. "It's really about treating everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve," he said. "We see our neighbors as ourselves."

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Those claims are questionable. Most police officers serve bravely and with integrity. If Mr. Chauvin, as the prosecution has essentially argued, is that rare bad apple who violated his badge, why wasn't something done sooner? During his nearly two decades with the department, Mr. Chauvin shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another and received at least 17 complaints. And if police training is state of the art, how to account for the failure of other police to act, including three officers who are set to go on trial in August for aiding and abetting Floyd's murder?

One has to wonder what would have happened if a young bystander to Floyd's arrest on May 25 hadn't had the presence of mind — and bravery — to film the events and show the world the damning evidence. Would George Floyd have become just another instance of force used disproportionately against Black people? Prosecutors are right that the jury will decide the guilt or innocence of Mr. Chauvin. But make no mistake: Policing is also on trial.

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