Port: Can Derek Chauvin get a fair trial with an angry mob looking on?
The existence of liberal society (in the classical sense of the term) does not hinge on the mere presence of democratic institutions like ballot boxes and jury trials. Those are ideas. In order for them to function properly, the flesh-and-blood people who carry them out must also feel like they can make what they believe are the right choices without fear.
MINOT, N.D. — The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has commenced in Minnesota.
Chauvin, as I'm sure you know, was the officer who was kneeling on George Floyd's neck when he died. Floyd's death kicked off a renewed surge of Black Lives Matter activism last year that, unfortunately, was often extremely violent.
Communities around the country, and around the world, saw people hurt and killed. Property was damaged.
North Dakota wasn't spared the violence. Rioters threw rocks and broke windows in downtown Fargo last year.
As the criminal just system begins the process of adjudicating Chauvin's guilt or innocence, our entire nation is bracing itself for what could be another explosion of arson and rock-throwing and beatings if the jurors don't convict.
Jury selection commences soon.
MORE: Follow our continuing coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial here
Can you imagine how terrified some of those potential jurors are? Knowing that they might be subjected to weeks or months or even years of harassment, and worse, if the verdict some want so desperately isn't reached?
How can we guarantee Chauvin a fair trial in an environment where the jurors — not to mention the judge and the prosecutors and everyone else involved — know that violent reprisal may well be in the offing?
It's a terrible reality for a free society like ours. Another example of our institutions breaking down under the pressures of vicious strains of populism.
In January, when a mob of incensed Trump supporters stormed our nation's capitol building, I was angry.
It wasn't just because those mouth breathers were waving around the Confederate flag under the rotunda, though I was incensed to see that traitor's banner there, or that they attacked cops, even as they exclaimed their support for law enforcement, but because of the damage done to our political process.
The existence of liberal society (in the classical sense of the term) does not hinge on the mere presence of democratic institutions like ballot boxes and jury trials.
Those are ideas. In order for them to function properly, the flesh-and-blood people who carry them out must also feel like they can make what they believe are the right choices without fear.
Many countries allow citizens to vote on leaders, but in a lot of them, voting the wrong way might get you a beating, or worse. In those situations, can we say that democracy exists?
If members of Congress, tasked with certifying a national vote, fear a mob-style attack, does that not belittle the integrity of the whole process?
The same can be true of a jury trial.
The prosecutors and defense attorneys, the judge and the jury, shouldn't have a mob breathing down their necks.
Based on everything we know about Chauvin, and the circumstances of Floyd's death, I, as a rational human being, believe he should be convicted.
I'm sure many of you agree with me.
Yet there is a reason we don't convict people in the court of public opinion. Trials happen in the criminal justice system where the bar for conviction is very high for numerous excellent reasons.
If the Chauvin trial produces an injustice, the reaction cannot be violence. No juror should feel bullied into an outcome. No person, be they a citizen of Minneapolis or Fargo or North Pole, Alaska, should fear for the safety of themselves or their property because of this trial.
Our system shouldn't work that way.
Our system can't work that way.
Many have made excuses for the Trump supporters who attacked Congress in January. Many have tried to rationalize the violence perpetrated by some Black Lives Matter activists last year.
We have to stop. It's undermining our ability to function as a society.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .