In the 1970’s, some in the West used to mock the Soviet Union criminal justice system and their “Show Trials”. These had first occurred during the Joseph Stalin era. Specifically, those trials were designed to use the justice system to get rid of one’s political enemies. But more generally, the phrase refers to trials where the outcomes are preordained. It doesn’t matter what evidence is presented… or not presented. The verdict has been decided in advance and that verdict is guilty.
We’re going to see something very similar in the near future with the trial of Derek Chauvin. He’s the Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with the second degree murder of George Floyd. It is likely that you’ve seen the video and reached your own conclusions about Chauvin’s behaviour. You can look at what happened and think that Chauvin is a brute. Or a bad cop. Maybe even evil. But it is indefensible to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill George Floyd and this is what second degree murder means.
Won’t matter. I’ll tell you why this is going to be a Show Trial: American-style. He will be convicted of second degree murder because this is a jury trial and after the trial is over those jurists will have to return to normal, civilian life. After their trials are over, their identities will be made public. We will know their names and soon thereafter where they live, where they work, and where their children attend school. The jurors know this, too.
Put yourself in their shoes. They’ve seen the violence that rocked Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They’ve seen other incidents where even unfounded accusations of racism ruin lives. If those jurors know what’s good for them, they will return a verdict of guilty and they will return it quickly.
Once upon a time – and not that long ago – I believed that our (and by that I mean North America’s) criminal justice system was fairer and better than those in other countries. I no longer believe it. The reason why the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” continues to resonate so powerfully is because everyone buys the notion that ninety years ago in some parts of the United States a black man could not get a fair trial if the alleged victim was white. Things have come full circle: It’s now impossible for a white policeman to get a fair trial if accused of hurting a black man.
And that’s our version of progress.