Thursday February 09, 2023

Policing life

May 30, 2020

This is so much bigger than personal accountability. Yes, the four police officers present at the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were fired the next day. The case is being investigated by the FBI. And the mayor of Minneapolis and lots of other politicians are talking about “values.”

But later that night, police fired teargas and rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters, showing us that the national divide remains deep and wide and nothing has changed. The nation is split – racially, economically, politically – into us vs. them, and only one side (which is armed to the hilt) gets to be boss.

As long as this paradigm remains intact, occasionally chastising, or even prosecuting, a police officer for committing murder, or some other blatant act of racist overstepping, accomplishes virtually nothing. The instilling of “values” in the armed enforcers of a racist social order will result in, at most, superficial change. And the world will not be any safer.

George Floyd died on May 25 because he was deprived of his right to breathe. He – or someone – was accused of using a counterfeit bill to buy groceries. Four officers responded to the call of a “forgery in progress” and, on arriving at the scene, ordered a suspect to get out of his car. He “resisted arrest” and may have been “under the influence,” a police spokesman said later, all of which resulted in one of the officers, after a scuffle, keeping Floyd flat on the ground and immobile by kneeling on his neck. This lasted for seven or eight minutes; Floyd cried out in pain, cried that he couldn’t breathe, then eventually passed out. The officer continued kneeling on the neck until an ambulance arrived. Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Shortly afterward, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a statement that George Floyd had died of a "medical incident." How forgettably abstract! And that would have been that – incident forgotten, let’s move on – except for the horrific ten-minute video that went public, showing a murder in progress as passers-by cried out to the officers to let the man breathe. The public outrage over the video led to official “action” – the four officers were fired – but . . . now what?

As we know, Floyd’s death is only the latest hell inflicted on a community of color somewhere in this country, either by police officers or armed white vigilantes, in recent weeks and months. But of course this goes back decades, centuries – to the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent and their determination to claim the land as theirs and start importing slaves to make it productive.

This is not history. This is the present moment: Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling with his full weight on George Floyd’s neck, until the man dies. All that has changed in the last three hundred years – the progress we’ve made – is that today a race-based murder can get you fired.

I’m sure we’re at a point where the majority of Americans recognize the terror and insanity of this.

Excerpted from: 'Policing and the Sanctity of Life'.