George Floyd Was Never The Issue
Today memorial services were held in Minneapolis for George Floyd, a man wrongfully killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin (since fired).
While Floyd is being laid to rest, the controversies surrounding his death are far from being laid to rest. Derek Chauvin and three other MPD officers are now facing criminal charges over his death, which sparked a number of protests as well as violent destructive riots nationwide.
Yet when we examine the current headlines on Google News, which are almost entirely stories related to George Floyd's death, there is a curious quality to most of them: very few of the stories are actually about George Floyd or even his death at the hands of the MPD. There is an important realization to be had from this, which is that George Floyd was never the issue. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the controversy and debate is not about George Floyd, nor should it be.
Due Process Is About The Crime
Throughout the civilized world, and in particular within the United States, there is one overarching legal doctrine applicable in all situations: everyone is equal before the law. The United States Constitution specifically guarantees due process for all people accused of a crime (Fifth Amendment), and further guarantees all people the equal protection of the laws (Fourteenth Amendment).
Especially in a moment such as this, these are important principles everyone should remember. Because of these clearly articulated legal and Constitutional standards, no person may lawfully be denied justice, regardless of his character, his personal history, or any other aspect of his person. Because of these clearly articulated legal and Constitutional standards, the commentary by the Minneapolis police union chief that George Floyd had "a violent criminal history" may be immediately dismissed as irrelevant. Because of these clearly articulated legal and Constitutional standards, the autopsy findings of various controlled substances within George Floyd's blood at the time of his death do not relieve Derek Chauvin of his guilt for having caused Floyd's death.
Due process means the law does not consider such things when deciding if a death qualifies as an homicide. The manner of death will impact the statutory offense of which Derek Chauvin may plausibly be convicted, but that is the extent of the significance.
Due process means that while George Floyd is at the center of all discussion, debate, and legal proceedings regarding his death, George Floyd the man is not and must never be a relevant factor in those discussions, debates, and legal proceedings.
Due process also means that Derek Chauvin is not entitled to either more or less rights by virtue of being a police officer. Just as George Floyd the man is not and must never be a relevant factor, so too must Derek Chauvin not be a relevant factor.
Due process means that our focus should be on what was done and not on who was doing it or to whom it was done. George Floyd's death was an injustice because he died, not because Derek Chauvin caused his death. George Floyd's death at the hands of a police officer was an injustice not because Derek Chauvin was a police officer, but because, as the statement of probable cause against him attests, MPD officers are specifically trained not to restrain suspects in the manner George Floyd was restrained.
Our Reactions Are About Us, Not About George Floyd
In similar token, our reactions to George Floyd's death are about who we are, not about George Floyd. Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar actually hinted at this in his recent op-ed essay in the Los Angeles Times regarding George Floyd's death.
What was your first reaction when you saw the video of the white cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while Floyd croaked, “I can’t breathe”?
If you’re white, you probably muttered a horrified, “Oh, my God” while shaking your head at the cruel injustice. If you’re black, you probably leapt to your feet, cursed, maybe threw something (certainly wanted to throw something), while shouting, “Not @#$%! again!” Then you remember the two white vigilantes accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood in February, and how if it wasn’t for that video emerging a few weeks ago, they would have gotten away with it. And how those Minneapolis cops claimed Floyd was resisting arrest but a store’s video showed he wasn’t. And how the cop on Floyd’s neck wasn’t an enraged redneck stereotype, but a sworn officer who looked calm and entitled and devoid of pity: the banality of evil incarnate.
The subtext of the essay is more important by far than the rationalizations offered up for the manner in which protests devolved into anarchic riots, looting, and violence. The subtext is that whether or not people protest, or even riot, proceeds from their reaction to Floyd's death.
With no small irony, even the protests over George Floyd's death are, ultimately, not about George Floyd. Rather, they are about the perception by others that his death was an injustice, a grievance for which there must be redress.
The grievance George Floyd's son Quincy Mason expressed reflected his pain at losing his father.
“No man or woman should be without their father,” Mason said.
The grievance various black community leaders have expressed is the anger at the claimed discrimination against blacks deaths such as George Floyd's typify.
“As a Black man, this is our norm. We have to be able to figure out new ways of how we navigate to be able to live life whatever you want to call normal,” [Nehemiah Center Re-entry Services Director Anthony] Cooper said in the town hall.
The grievance expressed by Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi is the frustration at having the good work done by most police law enforcement offices stained and tainted by the misconduct of one miscreant officer.
As the chief law enforcement officer of Iberville Parish, I share in the nation’s outrage over the tragic death of George Floyd. Situations of this caliber creates a stereotype that all law enforcement are harmful to those citizens we encounter. This is untrue and overshadows all the good law enforcement does for our community. Sadly, it takes one officer to destroy the image of our profession and the trust we have worked so hard to build over the years in our parish.
When people protest, it is these grievances--these perceptions of personal injury--for which redress is sought. It is these grievances which define the injustice of George Floyd's death.
It necessarily follows that correcting that injustice will reflect more how people react to George Floyd's death than the death itself.
This is not to delegitimize either people's reactions, their protests, or their desire to see the wrong made right. The pursuit of justice is always a pursuit by the living, not the dead, and thus the justice obtained will necessarily be for the living and not the dead.
Our reactions to such events are about us, and the justice we seek in response is for us. This is simply the nature of reality.
Justice Is For Us, Therefore Our Actions Must Be Justifiable
Justice is by its nature the apotheosis of all our fundamental rights. Our defense of our own civil liberties, which includes the defense of the liberties of others, is the pursuit of that justice.
Protests over the death of George Floyd, themselves expressions of the fundamental right of peaceable assembly, are the pursuit of that justice.
As the justice we seek is for us, our actions must be justifiable. We cannot set right even a single wrong by creating more wrongs.
This is why the fundamental right is for peaceable assembly, and why protests above all must be peaceful. Actions taken during a protest which bring harm to another are by definition wrong actions. When the protests over George Floyd's death devolve into riots, not only are those riots wrong, they are the epitome of hypocrisy.
Destroying private property, burning down businesses, sacking and looting stores are themselves acts of clear injustice. They are themselves crimes.
The shooting of retired police captain David Dorn was an act of clear injustice. It was murder, more cold blooded and calculated than the worst characterization of George Floyd's death at the hands of Derek Chauvin.
To suggest that unjust acts are necessary to produce justice is illogical, irrational, and simply absurd. The arguments advanced by members of the legacy media that riots, looting, and violence in the wake of George Floyd's death are a pathway to justice are similarly illogical, irrational, and absurd.
To achieve justice, we must always act justly.
Finding A Solution
Recognizing that George Floyd is not the issue is valuable for another reason: it shows a pathway towards actual solutions.
The one consistent inference in all the grievances expressed over the death of George Floyd has been that such an event must not happen again, that we must strive to make whatever changes are necessary to prevent similar events from happening in the future.
As George Floyd is not the issue, George Floyd will not be a part of the solution. Whatever changes must be made to police procedures and police training to prevent future occurrences must not rely on any aspect of George Floyd or they will inevitably fail. Police procedures and training must not rely on any aspect of the suspect, nor even the police officer.
We see this also in the statement of probable cause charging Derek Chauvin: he was trained not to take the actions that he did, yet he took them anyway. Setting aside the legal proceedings against Derek Chauvin and the three other police officers, the prevention of future such events must lie in police training. To borrow the military aphorism "train as you fight, fight as you train," police training and discipline must be such that police officers reflexively apply proper procedures and use proper protocols.
The solution for the future--the justice for the future--is to raise police training to a point where a future Derek Chauvin does not deviate from the proper handling of a restrained suspect. Police training must be raised to a point where the psychological state of a police officer during any such incident is no longer relevant to how that officer conducts himself during the incident.
The breakdown that resulted in George Floyd's death was not a simple question of race or racial animus, even though many perceive racial animus in Derek Chauvin's actions (and, to be sure, racial animus cannot be excluded as a factor in Chauvin's behavior). The breakdown was either a lack of adequate procedures for handling an agitated suspect, a lack of adequate training in such procedures, or a lack of adequate discipline within the MPD to ensure such procedures were rigorously followed. Which of these particular elements were involved in that breakdown is beyond what can be divined from the facts presented to the public thus far (and it may be that all were involved), but that there was such a breakdown is demonstrated by the fact that George Floyd died when he should not have.
The Solution Is Always Equality Before The Law
The Constitutional guarantee is the equal protection of the laws. The Constitutional guarantee is due process for everyone. The police must treat every suspect with the same considerations, the same level of respect, and apply the same precautions, without fear or favor.
Whenever there is disparity of treatment--in either direction--the seeds of injustice are sown. Only when there is equality of treatment can we advance towards greater justice.
Watching the video of George Floyd's death, it is hard--it is impossible--to believe there was equality of treatment. Not all suspects are treated thus, and not all police officers treat suspects thus. Regardless of the catalyst for the disparity of treatment, be it racism, personal animus between George Floyd and Derek Chauvin, or any other factor, the beginning of the injustice is that disparity of treatment.
The beginning of the solution is therefore equality of treatment.
To get to that equality of treatment, we begin by realizing that George Floyd was never the issue.