The Killing of George Floyd

George Floyd has recently been more omnipresent on the Internet than just about anything else in recent memory, except maybe the Coronavirus.

For good reason, too. This is obviously a case of substantial injustice and probably murder. At the very absolute minimum, we can say with 100% confidence that the police were in the wrong and that Derek Chauvin committed – at minimum – manslaughter. [1]

Facts

In cases like this, precious few people seem to take time to look up the facts. In this particular case, the most significant facts are well-known and few-to-no major misconceptions seem prevalent as in other cases. Still, it’s helpful to spread around what is known:

  1. Officer Derek Chauvin caused the death of George Floyd by leaning his knee on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time. Other LEOs indicate that he should never have been leaning on his neck in the first place. Whether or not that’s true, he clearly did so for far too long.
  2. Both Chauvin and the three other officers involved were fired by the MPD the next day. [5]
  3. Both the FBI and Minnesota’s BCA are investigating. [3] Chauvin has been charged with third-degree-murder. [12]
  4. Floyd allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. [6] (Obviously, this is in no way justification for what happened. In fact, as far as I know, we can’t state with confidence that Floyd even necessarily knew that the bill was counterfeit.)
  5. Police claim that Floyd was “under the influence”[7] As far as I know, this has not been verified by anyone. And like the counterfeit bill, it doesn’t really matter anyway.
  6. Police claim that Floyd was resisting arrest. [7] Two different videos seem to corroborate this to some degree. [14][15] Ultimately, though, this doesn’t matter. Chauvin clearly went far beyond what was necessary to subdue Floyd and flouted the principle of minimum necessary force.
  7. People have claimed that Chauvin wore a “Make Whites Great Again” hat. This is false. The photo is of Jonathan Lee Riches, who claims (unverifiably) that the photo was altered. [9]
  8. People have claimed that Chauvin was on stage at a Trump rally. This is false. The man on stage was Mike Gallagher of the Bloomington Police Federation. [10]

Reactions

Reactions seem to fall into one or more of these categories (among others not listed):

  1. Expressions of sorrow, disgust, outrage, etc. with calls for Derek Chauvin and/or the other officers to be held accountable.
  2. Expressions of sympathy with the family of Floyd.
  3. White people apologizing.
  4. Expressions of sympathy with / regret regarding the plight of black Americans in general with respect to this particular case.
  5. Indictments of our systems of law enforcement and justice based on this particular case.
Officer Accountability

The first category (criticism of the officers) is fully justified and commendable. There can be no reasonable doubt that Chauvin did something evil, regardless of whether that’s determined to be manslaughter or murder, and regardless of whether Floyd was actually using counterfeit money or under the influence or resisting arrest at some point. Chauvin has a sketchy record at best and the main video is pretty clear. There might be a tiny amount of debatability regarding the other officers. But, at minimum, they’re probably guilty of inaction when they should have intervened. Hopefully, the sheer volume of these reactions will help achieve justice in this particular situation and help ensure it in the future.

Sympathy for Floyds

The second category (sympathy with Floyd’s family) is obviously similarly commendable. On a somewhat unrelated side note: from what I can tell, the family and friends of Floyd have reacted with remarkable restraint and astuteness. It’s easy to imagine how something like this happening to a loved one could cause someone to overreact and want to burn the whole system down. Indeed, such has frequently occurred in cases like this. But that’s not what they’ve done. In particular, kudos to Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross, who said in a clear reference to the community’s reactions (or potential reactions):[2]

You can’t fight fire with fire. Everything just burns, and I’ve seen it all day — people hate, they’re hating, they’re hating, they’re mad. And he would not want that. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t. He would give grace — I stand on that today — he would still give grace to those people.

White Guilt

The third category (white guilt) is silly. The concept that one person is responsible for the actions of someone they’ve never met or even influenced is preposterous. This concept is the source of all sorts of horrible things. In fact, it is even a contributor to racism. For example, when someone suffers some evil (real or perceived) at the hands of an individual or group, then generalizes their resulting resentment, anger, or hatred against that individual’s or group’s entire race. (Examples might include a white man declaring Mexicans are horrible because one “took his job” or declaring blacks evil because he was once robbed by one.) Please don’t feed this concept or give it any validity.

Arabs and Muslims as a whole are not responsible for 9/11.

Japanese people as a whole bear no responsibility for Pearl Harbor.

Black Americans as a whole bear no responsibility for Gosnell’s atrocities.

And white Americans as a whole bear no responsibility for Derek Chauvin.

Sympathy for Black Americans

The fourth category is, of course, more reasonable as it pertains to general circumstances. But I would encourage a degree of caution and restraint as it pertains to this case. I know this will make a lot of people angry, but it’s the simple truth: we do not yet know whether race was even a factor. When a person does something evil to a person of another race, it is not automatically true that racism was involved. Racism is not a person mistreating someone of a different race. Racism is a person mistreating someone because of their race.

For example, when a group of black men attempted to accost and rob me in college, there was no reason for me to assume that they were doing so because I’m white. Most likely, their motivations were purely financial.

Similarly, when a black man stole my bike, I can say with certainty that my race had nothing to do with his motivations (as he did not see me until he was already making his escape).

(My car was also broken into by someone who was probably white, but obviously there was no racism there.)

Both the former group and the latter individual did something evil and deserve to face consequences for it, but there is no reason to assume racism on their part.

We do not know this was an instance of racism. Now, don’t get me wrong. It very well may turn out that it is. Derek Chauvin could be a full-blown white supremacist for all I know. But to my knowledge, we do not yet have any real reason to conclude that he is. He has a checkered record as a police officer, so perhaps there is something in that which does indicate some racism (if so, please let me know).

But, please, “innocent” until proven guilty. In fact, we don’t really know anything about Chauvin’s motives. Was he a racist taking the opportunity to harm a black man as much as he thought he could get away with? Was he an overly-aggressive officer who used excessive force because of contempt for a perceived lower-class individual and/or criminal? Or is he just incredibly unperceptive and stupid? We really don’t know (though we can probably disregard that last possibility given his record; if it does turn out to be true, then that shifts some blame to the department and its policies/practices).

The previous paragraphs should not be misconstrued as a defense of Chauvin in general or a claim that he is innocent in general. Like I said before, he’s clearly guilty of inappropriate force and manslaughter at minimum, and quite possibly murder. And in my estimation, there was some degree of malicious intent. It is good that he was fired the next day and I fully support him facing the full consequences for his actions.

The Floyd Case as a General Criticism

And, finally, we have the fifth category: using Floyd’s death as the basis for criticisms of law enforcement and the justice system as a whole. This is of middling value and accuracy.

After all, the system seems to be working correctly. Within a day, Chauvin and the other officers involved were fired from the Minneapolis police department and the FBI initiated an investigation at the request of that same department[3] (and possibly Trump[4]). Whatever their motives may be, the department is to be commended for this. If the departments involved with Steven Avery (and maybe Michael Brown) had done likewise, perhaps events would have unfolded better. Also, note that Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder.[12]

Using specific cases like this as a wholesale indictment of our system is typically the result of basing conclusions on feelings and emotions rather than facts and logic. I’ve even seen people claim with complete confidence that nothing like this ever happens to white people. There is no basis for this exaggeration. Police kill more white people than they do black people (about 1.5-2.5 [16][17] times as many, in fact). That is a simple, easily verifiable fact, yet people act like I’m making things up because the media has so twisted their perceptions. That is not to say that there aren’t some issues, or that race absolutely doesn’t play a role. Per capita, far more black people are killed by police (about 2.5 times the white rate [16]; higher if you include more historical data [17]). So there is clearly a disparity.

But I really wish people would stop engaging in the practice of assuming the worst possible cause or motive and drawing conclusions based on that assumption.

Insinuating that someone takes a certain position on some issue primarily because they have some undisclosed sinister motive is one of the most obnoxious things a person can do.

Being Classically Liberal Facebook page [11]

It’s what renders people incapable of having civil discussions about differences. And it’s what gives people undeserved certainty in claiming that a negative result involving racial disparities is absolutely caused by racist motivations. It very well may be (and probably is to some degree). But there are other reasonable explanations worth investigating. This applies both to people stating opinions and to statistical disparities on the basis of race, class, sex, etc. Case in point, I have been told that I am racist against Latinos for my opinions on illegal immigration. Never mind that I’m married to a Guatemalan, or that a close Mexican friend has even stronger opinions on the subject than I do.

All I ask is that people not make confident assertions about causes and motives until they’ve ruled out other reasonable explanations and done their due diligence. We don’t need to be 100% certain before making such assertions, but we should at least be beyond the point of reasonable doubt.

References

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lirHz93qJ50
  2. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/05/26/he-was-kind-he-was-helpful-friends-family-say-george-floyd-was-a-gentle-giant/
  3. https://kstp.com/news/investigation-minnesota-bca-fbi-man-in-medical-distress-handcuffs-/5741256/
  4. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1265774770877902848
  5. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/minneapolis-police-officer-center-george-floyd-s-death-had-history-n1215691
  6. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/05/28/george-floyd-store-owner-staff-call-police-ctn-sot-vpx.cnn
  7. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minneapolis-police-george-floyd-died-officer-kneeling-neck-arrest/
  8. https://twitter.com/AlexLehnertFox9/status/1265409119843954694
  9. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/27/george-floyd-derek-chauvin-untrue-social-media-claims/5271890002/
  10. https://apnews.com/afs:Content:8993962141
  11. https://www.facebook.com/BCLcommunity/posts/1366133756754376
  12. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/minneapolis-police-officers-derek-chauvin-arrested-george-floyd-case-n1216011
  13. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/05/28/george-floyd-store-owner-staff-call-police-ctn-sot-vpx.cnn
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lirHz93qJ50
  15. https://www.instagram.com/p/CA1BObVnbqt
  16. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/topic-pages/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-6.xls
  17. https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/
  18. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793?fbclid=IwAR38TyVt1LHj-oz3_1yKX_MLTVR7czcaGa1SVHrygH13aQCjsQG45_9F_6E

Edits

  1. 2020-06-02 09:25 EST – Added reaction sub-headings. Added verbiage to Reactions 4-5 and a couple of other sentences for clarity and specificity. Moved Facts section from bottom to top.
  2. 2020-06-02 11:00 EST – Added embedded posts & videos. Added a couple clarifying words and added the last sentence before the References section.
  3. 2020-06-02 13:13 EST – Added sources for police killing statistics.
  4. 2020-06-05 15:26 EST – Minor word tweaks and clarity edits.

Author: Biblical Liberal

I’m a Christian classical liberal. In that precise order.