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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Respect Requires Accountability: a response to the Chauvin Verdict

COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS   Respect Requires Accountability: a response to the Chauvin Verdict

By: Cook County Equity in Justice Initiative Pat Eliasen, Cook County Sheriff

COOK COUNTRY, MINNESOTA   May 8, 2021  (LSN The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last spring set off the largest civil rights demonstrations in decades across the nation and even worldwide. For many, it seemed to be the culmination of hundreds of years of state violence against people of color.

In the final days of the Chauvin trial, and especially once the jurors began to deliberate, it felt like the whole world held its breath and waited for Minnesota to decide for the nation who we would be: those that would sentence a Black man to death for using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, or those that would hold an abusive police officer accountable for taking a man's life without justification.

Derek Chauvin was rightfully convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The Cook County Equity in Justice Initiative was formed in part as a response to George Floyd's death. It is important that we acknowledge this historic verdict and that we honor the loss of life by committing to help create a world where law enforcement response is not deadly to people of color.

According to an article published by Nature, the international weekly journal of science, it is estimated that a Black man is 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police during his lifetime than a white man. Another study, mentioned in the article, has shown that Black people fatally shot by police seemed to be twice as likely as white people to be unarmed. According to a 2017 CNN article, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates Native Americans are killed in police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. Most of these deaths do not result in criminal convictions or even charges for law enforcement officers, which is one reason the Chauvin verdict is so historic.

These statistics are difficult to read, especially for people working in criminal justice. It is an extreme minority of officers that would intentionally harm someone based on their race, but the different and life-threatening consequences for people of color are a problem regardless of the intent behind them. Part of EJI's mission is to "acknowledge and build awareness about what inequities exist in our justice system." It is our opinion that there is no solving the problem without first acknowledging it. As Jon Stewart once said, "You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards."

EJI is a group made up of a combination of criminal justice professionals (including law enforcement and prosecution), domestic and sexual violence advocates and representatives from the Grand Portage Band. EJI was founded on the theory that system change toward more equal justice cannot be designed without the participation of peace officers themselves. The work of EJI has been deliberate and careful. It began with engaging in difficult conversations about how race and bias effect our lives in Cook County, then articulating the mission and vision of the group. EJI recently conducted a community survey of people's perceptions of criminal justice to help us discover the inequities that we must work to eliminate. We are now distilling the responses to this survey into a summary of which biases are most affecting criminal justice in the county. Planning listening sessions for the public is next. Then, EJI must decide what action it can and should take based on what the community has told us.

The law enforcement members of EJI would tell you that their careers present an extremely difficult work environment today. But to remain working within a system that found Derek Chauvin not guilty despite his inhumane, clearly unnecessary and deadly treatment of George Floyd would be nearly intolerable. To be a person of color living in a world where 12 people could not agree that Floyd's death should be called murder would likely be unimaginably painful.

By: Cook County Equity in Justice Initiative
Pat Eliasen, Cook County Sheriff

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.

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A big Thank You to all our supporters across  Northern Minnesota, 


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Cook County is at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region in the remote northeastern part of the state, stretching from the shores of Lake Superior to the US-Canada border. By land it borders Ontario, Canada to the north, and Lake County, MN to the west.  The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain is 2,301 feet and the highest lake,  Total Area equals 3,339.72 sq miles

Cook County is home to three national protected areas:
Grand Portage National Monument
Superior National Forest
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Cook County include:
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 Gunflint Trail      Superior Hiking Trail
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