Quick note: I am using the word “suspect” below because I am not just talking about George Floyd. Please do not think I am dehumanizing him or focusing on the fact that he was a felon and in the process of being arrested for a crime. While that is true it does not make what the police did right.
It was wrong and below I will explain why.
The officer kneeling on his neck seems to be the thing that has most people outraged. That part of this doesn’t bother me. This is a legitimate technique and when used properly is very effective. I’ve read articles that state “experts” opinions that this is not a common tactic and is considered dangerous and bad. That is not so and I question the motivation of those experts. It is used by law enforcement world-wide and by military police as well.
It is the “when used properly” part that I find the problem. It wasn’t. For me that much is so clear. It leaves us with some very good questions that I will address later.
How do we know based on the scant information we have that this technique was not used properly?
We only need a little information to know. First, we know it was held for 8 minutes or so. That is far too long. the technique is meant to be quick and to end when the suspect is in handcuffs. That is the second issue. The suspect was already in handcuffs. Therefore there is no need for this. Then there is the fact that there are four officers present. The knees and feet are secure. With handcuffs on so are the hands. There is simply no tactical justification I can think of for the continued use of this technique let alone for length of time it was used. Finally there is the fact that in this case George Floyd indicated he was under distress. Even if an officer doesn’t believe the suspect they must act as if the claim is legitimate and are legally bound to tend to that person if safe to do so. It was clearly safe given the fact that he was secure and other officers were present.
- Suspect in handcuffs (hands secure)
- Feet and Knees secure
- Held for long duration
- Four officers present
- Suspect indicates distress
- Officers failed to tend to medical complaint
If someone asks what is wrong with it, that is your quick list.
As a direct result of their negligence George Floyd died.
It was murder!
“You know, I want an arrest for all four of those officers tonight. A murder conviction for all four of those officers. I want the death penalty,” Floyd’s brother said on CNN.
Maybe. You must understand though that in this circumstance that is a very difficult case to make. Manslaughter is more likely the case. You can go online and read Minnesota statute for yourself.
- Murder in the First Degree
- Murder in the Second Degree
- Murder in the Third Degree
- Manslaughter in the First Degree
- Manslaughter in the Second Degree
Take for example the text from Murder in the Third Degree which would be the lowest murder charge in the statute. It reads in part that the requirements for this crime are, “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind”. Note that the word “and” in the law is very important. It is a connector that means both parts must be met for the crime to have been committed. To prove that someone has a “depraved mind” is very difficult. In this particular case the officer on the neck position was calm and his position could just as easily been any one of the others there.
Likewise Manslaughter in the First degree is not met by the actions of the officers. What about Manslaughter in the Second Degree? Therein may be the crime to be charged but even so the statute has criteria that may not apply.
It begins, “A person who causes the death of another by any of the following means is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree.” So what are the following that might apply? Just section (1) which reads, “by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another;” Again, the “and” throws a curve ball at it. If the officer was trained about this technique we can look at the training records and determine if he was trained that holding it too long was dangerous. If that is proved then we have a case. If it is not, and the officer and others confirm it was not taught that it was dangerous, then he would not have any reason to believe the thing he was taught to do in the academy (and no doubt practiced on his fellow recruits) was something he should not do.
If anyone else did it it would be murder!
As you can see from the statute above this is not the case. It is popular to think that this is about a black man and a white cop. I make this observation about that – until this becomes about a man and a cop it won’t change. When you blame an entire race and an entire profession for something and say it is directed another entire race you simply lose people.
That is why I seek so vigorously to get people to understand that we need to focus on the law itself. It is the lawmaker that has the power to change all this. Not only can they make such techniques illegal, or if legal require specific training, but they can also indicate much more than that when it comes to police behavior. The police are empowered by statute and if you want to reduce that power then affect change in the statute.
Pitting one group against the other will not produce the desired outcome.
First I suppose we have to define what the desired outcome is. I am not sure the people rioting even know. If we say it is for cops to stop killing black men we all know that isn’t an adequate explanation of the goal. It is too easy to site statistics that show this isn’t the case or to simply say, “sure, when black men stop breaking the law”. Even in the case of George Floyd he was breaking the law as he had done before. If not that – then what?
Others will answer by saying they want civilian oversight of police. I don’t know of a jurisdiction where that isn’t already the case. Across America there are civilians in charge of police, commissioners who oversee chiefs, civilian review boards that oversee officer discipline, and community groups that work with the police closely on interactions in their neighborhoods. The problem there is that civilians tend to side with the police.
For years people have asked – begged – for government to be “tough on crime” which means tough on criminals. They have asked for and gotten mandatory sentencing, tougher sentencing, three strikes laws, and authorized the militarization of their police departments even in small towns. Civilians did that.
If not civilian oversight then what? Come on already! What?
Before we get there we have to understand something – we need the police
Police exist for a reason and that reason has not gone away and won’t. It simply won’t. We all know that the people shouting “F*&k the police!” will call them when they need them.
Sadly there is no one answer to the question. No single solution. First, we have to stop dividing people into discrete groups. We have to stop hating criminals. We have to stop hating cops. I’ve heard people (you have too) say the cops should be killed, and I’ve heard people say the looters should be killed (Trump), and I’ve heard people say criminals deserve the death penalty.
Let’s pause to watch a video. A very important video from an unlikely source, America’s Got Talent.
What do you take away from that video? Is it about injustice? Is it about the human spirit? Is it about forgiveness? Hopefully it is all those things.
For those of you who didn’t watch (you missed out) it is the story of a man who was arrested, tried, convicted, and put in prison where he remained for 37 years of his life. He remained until he was proved innocent and a serial rapist was identified as the actual criminal.
If that happens once – just once – to me it is worth not having a death penalty and worth my not judging the criminal too harshly as a human being. That sounds pie in the sky but in fact I firmly believe how we view each other has more to do with this than anything else. Cops and lawmakers are people too and they have hopes and fears and the same human foibles as you do.
We have to need the police less
I think you all intuitively know this is true. You might want to knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them to turn the music down but you are afraid. It is easier to have someone else do it. You can remain anonymous so they won’t hate you. Most likely the interaction would go well but there are so many variables possible you just don’t want to risk it. Maybe your neighbor is a known jerk. Maybe he isn’t but you know you never come off right and always sound like a jerk even though you aren’t. On the other hand they might be having a gathering for a special occasion.
My neighbor was loud with music blasting the neighborhood. It was finally at a time of night where it was getting a bit much so I wandered over to ask them to please turn it down. I found that they were having a celebration and the music was from a live band they had hired. It was noise, it was annoying, but as a neighbor I understood this was something unique and special that they had put a lot of work into. I decided not to say anything and they invited me to stay.
Then again I’ve had neighbors that everyone had to visit them before they cared and it wasn’t for anything special other than beer on a Tuesday (yes, yes, I know to some of you that is very special).
Point is – we don’t do this very often. We don’t see people as people – we see them as problems and worse we see them as problems we want someone else to deal with.
The other way to need the police less is to have fewer laws or laws that restrict what the police can do. Sure that might mean we have to let some people make their own choices. Choices on what to smoke, drink, or how to behave. It also might mean that for some crimes the criminal gets away and the only way to eventually catch them is detective work.
Some things just wouldn’t be crimes at all. Why is the government telling people they have to wear a seat belt? For their own safety. That isn’t the government’s job. But having that law allows police to contact people. Once contacted events can unroll quickly and badly going from seat belt to knee in neck quickly.
George Floyd was a criminal
Floyd spent five years in prison for an armed home invasion. A man dressed as a water worker knocked on a woman’s door. She opened it and realized it wasn’t a legitimate worker. Floyd rushed in and put a gun to the woman’s abdomen. Five other men came in and searched the house. They were looking for drugs and money but finding none they took jewelry and other items. He pleaded guilty.
Reports were that he was working to turn his life around but on the day of his death he was either drunk or high (according to reports) and was passing a counterfeit bill – a felony at both the state and federal level.
So? I hear you asking that. So? Does that mean he should have been killed?
I am glad you ask because the answer is – of course – no. That is my point. Stop thinking of people as a group i.e. criminal, cop, black, white, thug, good citizen and just think of them as people muddling through life.
I am not so naive that I do no think (I know it) that evil exists. It does. But can we say that most criminals are evil? We can’t say that.
All that and then there is the foundation of our society
Truth, justice, and the American way needs to be our mantra. Corny? Okay sure. Don’t care that it is because it is true. As mentioned above one of the great flaws is that we have forgotten what justice actually is. Putting a man in jail isn’t justice. Even if he deserves it that part isn’t justice. Giving that man a fair trial and due process is justice.
At our foundation are the rights of the individual. We have given the state too much power and that gives them the ability to rob us of our rights. In the case of George Floyd his interaction with the police robbed him of all his rights at once. How much of that is society’s fault? It is so much easier to blame the cops than to shift the direction of an entire culture.
I realize I haven’t solved anything, not come up with a solid plan moving forward. Doing that is a task no single platypus can take on. I just want to give people something to think about so that perhaps together we can fit all the pieces into place and understand where things go wrong. Once we understand that fully there is the hope of creating a solution. I think it means us being kinder, the cops being less powerful, and suspending moral judgement in many cases.
What are your solutions?