George Floyd: ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ Totters during Trial for the Death of an African American Man



A code exists amongst police officers in the United States, which defines the relationship between the officers, but also their relationship with citizens.

It is the so-called “blue wall of silence,” the “verbal and implicit understanding that nobody should betray a colleague, no matter what the cost,” explains DeLacy Davis, ex-sergeant of the East Orange police department in New Jersey, in an interview with BBC Mundo.

For Davis, who worked in the force for 20 years and is now an activist and the founder of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, it is clear: the blue wall is a symptom of a greater problem in the country, which is revealing itself this month during the trial over the death of the African American George Floyd.

The hearing, in which white ex-officer Derek Chauvin is accused of murder, has put the spotlight on the police system and racism in the U.S. and, according to some sources, has made the blue wall wobble.


The images of George Floyd being subdued by Chauvin for almost nine minutes while he pleaded for his life spread around the globe last year and caused the biggest wave of racial protests in the recent history of the U.S.

As a result, the trial over his death, which started this month and in which Chauvin denied the accusations, has captured national and international attention, causing some activists to say that “America is on trial.” [ ]

One of the moments from the trial which particularly stood out was the testimony from the Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, who condemned the behavior of his ex-subordinate.

Arradondo confirmed that Chauvin’s actions were not in line with the training they receive and are “certainly not part” of their values or ethics. [ ] Last year he described what happened as “murder.” [ ]

His statement, together with the quick and strong condemnation from other officers in the country after images spread showing Floyd under Chauvin’s knee, are extremely unusual.

“It is one of the few times in my life that I have seen a police Chief and the majority of the leadership speak out against an officer, especially a white one,” the ex-sergeant stressed.

“In the academy they told us: you are not Black, you are not Latino, you are not white. You are blue, the color of the uniform.” DeLacy Davis, ex-sergeant of the East Orange police department in New Jersey

This all resulted in various voices, like The Washington Post, believing that the blue wall crumbled in Chauvin’s trial, although that does not “absolve the police”, the newspaper emphasized in an editorial. [ ]

However, some people see it differently.

“What happened suggests that the wall is collapsing, but there is another way to look at it, which is, given the unique aspects of the case, it was especially important for the police to distance themselves from it,” says Michelle Phelps, associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, and a specialist in the role of police and society’s perception of it.

“In a way, they are closing ranks and defending their own, turning Chauvin into a scapegoat,” she said in statements to BBC Mundo.

For Phelps, the police, especially in the U.S. but also in other Latin American contexts, have popularized the perception of their work as incredibly dangerous, “which means that other officers are used to defending each other and it is considered very dangerous not to do so.”

“To put it literally: you need them to watch your back so that they do not shoot you,” she clarifies.

“But the actual risk for a police officer in the U.S. of getting shot in the line of duty is very, very low, but this perception of a constant risk defines their interactions with citizens and amongst each other.”

Police officers are permitted to use violence; it is part of their job. However, when a suspect ends up dead, it is rare that officers are convicted in the United States.

Between 2005 and 2017, of thousands of police shootings (it is estimated that around 1,000 times a year an officer shoots and kills someone in the U.S.), only 29 police officers were convicted of murder or manslaughter, according to a report published by Philip Stinson, from Bowling Green State University.

Furthermore, according to a study published in Criminology & Public Policy, the job of police officers has not become more dangerous in terms of firearm assaults against them, even if it still carries risks.

Between 2014 and 2019, 1,467 officers were shot in 1,185 incidents. Of those, 249 ended up dead. On average, according to the above mentioned study, 245 officers are shot every year, of which 42 die.

A Symptom

In any case, the so-called wall of silence (or the reason why officers show such reluctance to file a report against a colleague, whether internally or externally) is seen by experts as another consequence of inequality, racism and police violence, and its victims in the Unites States keep adding up.

The latest of these is Daunte Wright, a young African American who died after he was shot by the police last Sunday after being stopped due to a suspected expired license plate. This occurred not far from where the trial against Derek Chauvin is taking place, and resulted in heightened racial tension.

The Chief of police in Brooklyn Center, where the incident occurred, claimed that it was a “tragic accident,” arguing that the officer who shot him intended to use her Taser instead of her gun.

“There is nothing I can say to lessen the pain,” [ ] he stated.

The ex-sergeant Davis condemns that reaction and sees it as a clear example of “how the code of conduct is activated.”

“The first reaction of the Chief of police, who has now resigned, was to say that it was an accident. He was not there. How does he know? Here you can see his deference to the officer and not to the citizen, who is the one who pays the officer’s salary,” he points out.

“The foundation of the police is based on slavery, and power and control over Black people. The code of silence is the symptom. The root is the problem of lack of respect for those who we think of as having no power,” he adds.

The investigator Phelps goes further and points out “the massive structural inequality in the United States, which weighs down on racial divisions.”

“And add to this a weak welfare state. We push police to manage the problems which result from all of the above,” she warns.

“We push inexperienced officers into the poor neighborhoods, where they would never live with their families, but for some reason we think it is acceptable for members of our community to live there with high rates of violence, drug use, homelessness and unemployment, and we tell the police: here is your badge, your baton and your gun, go and sort it out.

“The police feel that the country is against them, because they feel that it is asking them to solve society’s problems and then tramples over them when it is revealed exactly what that consists of. To a certain point I understand that. We are asking officers to do the impossible because we are not providing the necessary support to these communities.”

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