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  • Writer's picturePeter Valentin

Maybe the only post I will ever make here...

I’ve needed some time to digest the senseless death of George Floyd. I am saddened at what I saw on video and I am shocked at lack of humanity shown by those Minnesota police officers. While I have hope that our justice system will punish those officers, I realize that many people rightfully have a lack of confidence in our system and that is one of the core issues for those protesting across the country. I am normally very reluctant to post anything of substance on social media because generally, I feel no good comes from sharing your beliefs in these forums. But this is different. I felt I had to say something-not because of my own need to be heard, but because as an educator in forensic science and criminal justice, I have an obligation to speak to my current and former students. This can’t wait until I am in the classroom again.

One of the toughest lessons I teach has nothing to do with forensic science or crime scene investigation. It is the uncomfortable reality that because you are human, you are biased. There is no way to eliminate that bias, but once you know you it exists, you can work to mitigate its effect. As a former state trooper, I was blind to those biases and unknowingly exhibited them myself at times. But, I had the privilege of working with many troopers and officers that were driven to seek justice and protect the most vulnerable in society no matter who the victim was. I realize that the nobility of our motivations is no excuse for failing to act now. While it pains me to see my fellow police officers maligned because of the actions of a few reprehensible cops, I have to acknowledge the systemic bias that exists in so many parts of our criminal justice system-and across society.

I often work with defense attorneys in both criminal trials and in post-conviction efforts and I see firsthand how prevalent bias is in our justice system. My perspective evolved as I applied an objective scientific approach to the cases where I was assisting the defense-often for people of color. I have seen that our system is not blind to color and this inequality continues because we fail to see our own contribution to its perpetual existence. If we cannot acknowledge that we are biased, how can we make progress?

I’ve grappled for days on the question of what to do going forward. How can I help bring about change? While I know I will continue to provide my objective analysis of cases in the judicial system, I am also in a special position where I can influence the future of law enforcement and forensic science through my teaching. So, I will continue to have those hard conversations with my students. I will continue to teach about bias in all the forms I’ve seen in my roles as a trooper and a scientist. But more importantly, I will move those conversations to the forefront of what I do. The discussion of bias was often implicit in my material but now it will be discussed explicitly. I should have done more to make those lessons clearer and I can only blame my apprehension of approaching such sensitive topics. That concern seems misguided now.

As I look back on what I have written here, it seems so insignificant. But if we collectively contribute to the solution in whatever way we can, significant change will happen. When you’ve seen how people are often mistreated in our criminal justice system, it is hard not to be passionate about it. But, I know that part of what makes change so hard is that people are unwilling to see their own biases because of the implications the acknowledgement brings. My promise is to speak loudly to the next generation of law enforcement and forensic scientists and show them that they can do it better than we did. They need to make our system more color blind than it is now.

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