As the nation watched the Derek Chauvin verdict, transfixed by the drama, there were some teachers thinking this was a fantastic learning opportunity for students -- and that brings us to a pre-law classroom at Hialeah Gardens Senior High School.
“What did you guys notice about the technique that he used?” said teacher Derrick Johnson to his class, speaking about the defense attorney’s strategy.
Johnson is a lawyer, so he showed his class how to dissect the Chauvin trial, from start to finish, as they watched as much of it as they could.
“Definitely they have an idea of the importance, the sheer gravity that’s centered around this case,” Johnson said. “This is one of those teachable moments, I do remember when I was roughly their age, I had a teachable moment when I witnessed the whole Rodney King situation.”
Johnson contrasted that famous Los Angeles case, in which video showed police beating King, with the Chauvin case. The officers involved in the King case were acquitted while Chauvin was convicted.
“Sad reality is that if this wasn’t recorded, the officer probably would’ve gotten away with what he did,” said one of the students, Erik Leon, during the class discussion.
“I really enjoyed the class discussions, we got to see both sides of the argument and discussing it is extremely eye-opening,” said Rachel Gonzalez, a junior.
The students who are physically in the classroom and those who are learning from home talked about the techniques used by the attorneys, the implications of the verdict on society, and the evidence, especially the video evidence.
“I think that this trial has just showed us the importance of videotaping everything you see and if you see anything wrong don’t be scared to say anything about it,” said Erik, who is a senior.
The video which the whole world saw, the video which provided the key evidence in this case, was shot by a 17-year-old girl and that fact is not lost on the students here.
“I think she’s extremely brave,” Rachel said, who is also 17. “This lasted for nine minutes and 23 seconds and she had to stand there to take that video and that video was the key evidence, I know I couldn’t do it if I was put in her place.”
As they discussed the implications of the verdict on police reform, Johnson asked his class, “What if any lessons do you think we can get from the whole Chauvin-Floyd case?”
“I’m not saying defund the police and all this stuff,” Erik said, “But I do think reform needs to happen because if not these things are gonna keep happening, we just seen last week, the same things keep occurring.”
Some of the students in Johnson’s class might go on to become attorneys, some will not, but whatever they become, learning the lessons of the Chauvin trial might make them all better, more involved citizens.