Eastern University has a number of world-renowned alumni, revered for their impressive social justice work that we as students can proudly look to. However, there
is another side of Eastern’s alumnus repertoire, which includes some more sinister legacies. This semester has illuminated a number of Eastern graduates whose careers have included what students have called a divergence from the ideals of “Faith, Reason, and Justice” taught at Eastern University.
With the nation’s eyes watching the results of the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, many have begun to wonder who is the Defense Attorney for Derek Chauvin.
Defense Attorney Eric Nelson is a Minnesota native, and lives with his wife and three children in Minneapolis. He attended Eastern University in 1993, obtaining an undergraduate degree in history, and graduating cum laude in 1996. After obtaining his Juris Doctorate degree from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, Nelson became a managing partner of the Halberg Criminal Defense firm.
In 2015, he joined the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) Legal Defense Fund (LDF), representing a variety of cases. Now, in 2021, Nelson represented Derek Chauvin, the first white police officer found guilty of murdering a civilian in Minnesota, captured in a viral nine and a half minute video as the world watched the life seep out of George Floyd’s eyes. The police union funded Derek Chauvin’s defense, providing a dozen lawyers (including Eric Nelson) and over
one million dollars in support from the MPPOA legal fund.
This case caught international attention, as the outrage against George Floyd’s death swept across the nation, resulting in protests around the world. The tragedy of George Floyd’s death and the resulting guilty charge was only one painful reconciliation with the centuries long tradition of police brutality and militarization against Black Americans.
Students at Eastern University have been closely watching the case, and gathered via Zoom last Tuesday and Wednesday to pray for the verdict and reflect together.
However, when the student body and alumni network became aware that the Defense Attorney for Derek Chauvin was an Eastern University graduate, many became outraged. In analyzing Eric Nelson’s role in the case, there are mixed student reactions. Responses include the acknowledgement that every American is entitled to a “rigorous defense”, and the critique that Eastern University has a number of alumni who support white supremacy which the university has repeatedly failed to publicly denounce. By remaining silent on these issues, students feel the university is contributing to white supremacy and failing to uphold the standard of “Faith, Reason, and Justice”.
For the last week students have taken to Instagram and Twitter to urge the university to promptly respond to this issue. This discovery also triggered an ongoing discussion on racial justice at Eastern University, including students sharing their experiences of racism in Residence Life programs and the tokening of Bryan Stevenson to avoid a broader discussion on institutional reform.
Though the overall sentiment is that there are many students, professors, and staff dedicated to sustainable racial justice at Eastern, many feel the university itself still has a long way to go. Publicly acknowledging Eric Nelson’s defense of Derek Chauvin would be a small start.
Sources: USA Today, The Hill, The Sun, CNN, Eastern University, Instagram