White public officials have rushed before TV cameras to proclaim that the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police was the work of “one bad apple”, or a cop “gone rogue”—a statement then typically followed by the assurance that, “the great majority of police officers are not racists.”
African Americans have always seen such statements for what they are: white people letting themselves off the hook. White people refusing to acknowledge the depth and breadth of racism in America which, while it may be manifested in one ugly act at a time by one ugly racist at a time, has been going on for centuries; and extends far further and deeper than merely how black Americans are treated by police forces.
“One bad apple”? Really? That’s it?
Let’s start with the one most recently assigned that label, former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin ground his knee into Floyd’s neck for so long—9 minutes– that it deprived him of the very breath for which Floyd begged, but Chauvin never allowed him. Let’s not forget the circumstances: As Chauvin’s knee was forcing the life from him, Floyd posed absolutely no threat to anyone. He had been suspected of passing a bad check, an obviously non-violent crime. (We will learn in time whether even that suspicion was rooted in the same racism that killed Floyd.) Floyd had not resisted Chauvin’s arrest. He was in handcuffs, unable even to protect himself, let alone to hurt others. He lay on the ground, face down. And Chauvin and his fellow cops were armed to the teeth. Hard to imagine a human being less threatening than George Floyd was at that moment.
The first clue we have that Chauvin was not just “one bad apple”, is in the manner in which he inflicted fatal punishment on Floyd. Chauvin believed it was OK to kill a defenseless black man who had been suspected—not convicted, mind you, but suspected—of passing a bad check. Someone taught Chauvin that it was an acceptable thing for a police officer to do. Who made him think that was OK?
Watch that video again. Look at Chauvin’s face as he ignores Floyd pleading for his life. You will see not an ounce of doubt or hesitation, let alone regret, on Chauvin’s face. It is the face of a man absolutely sure that he is doing something he is allowed to do. Who made him think that?
You will also see Chauvin look right at those filming him, unmoved, undeterred. He knows they are filming him. He must know that the video will wind up on social media and on TV. That is the world we live in today, and big-city cops know it. Chauvin does not care. He is 100% certain that, even though he is killing a black man with no justification whatsoever, and even though there will be a video record to prove it, nothing bad will happen to him because of it. He will be protected.
Chauvin was a 19 year veteran of the Minneapolis police department. That means many police know who he is; they had to know how abusive he was, in the name of the City. Yet, no one ever stopped him. Want to bet that George Floyd was the first black man that Chauvin ever treated like a worthless animal?
Who taught him that was OK? The Minneapolis police department? Other cops? His parents? College buddies? America’s ugly racist history? Knowing that just about every other cop who has killed a black person unjustifiably in Minneapolis, in America, suffers no ill consequence from it? There are lots of bad apples here. The barrel is filled with them, and that is just the problem. In murdering George Floyd in cold blood, on videotape, remorselessly, for no reason other than that Floyd was black, Derek Chauvin merely did what the white world he grew up in had taught him was OK.
“One bad apple”? How about Chauvin’s fellow officers? Sworn to protect life and liberty, they witnessed one of their own transform from cop to murderer before their very eyes. And did nothing to stop him. Actually, they did worse than nothing. Some of them helped Chauvin make sure that Floyd couldn’t move. Watch the video.
What should a cop do when he is witnessing a murder, a few feet from him, while he is on duty, in uniform, and has the time and weapons to stop it? What should his training be for such a moment? The answers are so obvious that the questions need not be asked. Except when the murderer is another cop. What Derek Chauvin’s partners had been trained to believe was that it was more important at that moment to allow the murder of a defenseless black man than to stop the fellow officer committing the murder.
They were trained to let George Floyd die.
Who taught them that? The reflexive answer—not entirely incorrect, but insufficient—is the “informal” training most cops get about the importance of loyalty to one another, no matter what. Fostered by police unions and departments. “It’s us against them”, they are taught. But what makes that mentality acceptable? What has caused it to endure? What causes any of those in charge of police departments and police unions—and the (mostly white) jurors who routinely refuse to convict cops for refusing to stop their fellow cops from committing crimes—to believe this is acceptable behavior for police? Isn’t the only possible answer this: a society that either wants, or doesn’t care enough to stop, the mistreatment of black Americans by their government, in this case, the police?
“One bad apple”. How about the state and federal prosecutors, who had incredibly compelling evidence to charge Chauvin and his fellow officers with a crime, but then dragged their feet to charge even Chauvin, and (as of this writing) still have yet to charge the others? If those same prosecutors had video of a black man killing a white person, how reticent do you imagine they would be to charge him?
Who has taught them to wring their hands so feverishly when it’s police killing an unarmed, defenseless black man? Why do they claim to need more evidence, when they have the mother lode of all evidence, and all they need to charge a crime is “probable cause”? Is what they see on the video not at the very least “probable” cause to believe that a crime has been committed? Why are they fretting about whether the jury would actually convict? Why is that even the question? Why do they look for excuses to deny what they see with their own eyes? Why isn’t their logic that they will charge the crimes they see, the ones they know to have occurred?
If juries are reluctant to convict a murdering cop, then good and decent prosecutors must help them get there. Crimes must not go uncharged because prosecutors jealously nurture their “conviction rates”. There is something far more precious than a prosecutor’s vanity at stake here. Black Americans, and maybe especially white Americans, need to see whose side their government is on, and what their government thinks of white cops killing black men for no reason other than race. That is what the charged crime tells us.
The Minneapolis police chief publicly stated that Chauvin’s fellow officers were “complicit”—his words– in Chauvin’s murder, and that there was no difference in his mind between what Chauvin did, and what his fellow officers did in refusing to stop Chauvin from doing it. Who has taught the prosecutors that they must cower from doing their jobs when white police officers kill black men?
There are plenty more bad apples here….those who give license and cover to the daily expressions of deeply entrenched racism in America. One of them is our current president, Donald Trump. Trump’s most obvious political credential is his absolutely unashamed enthusiasm for stoking racism. His presidential candidacy was born in a cesspool of racism, ie, the wickedly false charge that Barack Obama was not born in America, and his refusal during the 2016 presidential campaign to disavow the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke.
During Trump’s presidency, when Colin Kaepernick protested police mistreatment of black citizens, Trump excoriated Kaepernick, confident that his racism would find a large and receptive audience, and indeed it did. The many who agreed with Trump found themselves justifying the president’s rants against Kaepernick by saying that Kaepernick was disrupting their enjoyment of a football game, that he should be ashamed of protesting against a game that had paid him so well, etc.
What so offended these millions of people? It couldn’t have been that Kaepernick was kneeling during his protest, or that he was completely silent when doing so, or that his protests didn’t delay the start of one game for one second. That shouldn’t have bothered anyone. No, what so many Americans found unforgivable was that this man kneeling quietly, asking for justice for black Americans…… was black. And Trump knew that going after Kaepernick at that moment would tap a deep reservoir of American racism.
Trump’s willingness to pour kerosene on any racist fire burning found expression even in the George Floyd murder and aftermath. Trump’s tweets encouraged shooting looters, threatened that “vicious dogs” would be unleashed on protesters—both racist tips of the cap to the 1960s deep South–and blamed riots and looting on groups that had done nothing wrong but politically oppose him. The sight of a black teenager taking a pair of sneakers that was not his to take enrages Trump, but he cannot find any anger when a cop takes a black human life that likewise was never his to take. As for white supremacist organizations—as to whom there was evidence of instigating riots and looting—the president was silent. He didn’t dare criticize their illegal conduct and risk the disenchantment of loyal supporters.
Some are born with hatred in their hearts for blacks; others have it bred into them. That both are joined and encouraged in their diseased hatred by the president of the United States is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about the Trump presidency. As we have learned: this country has proud, admitted racists—who are said to be only a small number—and those who deny vehemently that they are racists themselves, but who, out of expediency, just look the other way when they see it.
We have to stop honoring the difference. There is no difference that matters. Those who mercilessly choked the life out of George Floyd; those who watched with the power to stop it, but did not; those with the power to bring Floyd’s killers to justice, but would not; the president who reflexively summons America’s ugly racist tendencies; and those who support him as he does it, are all complicit in keeping America’s knee firmly on the neck of black America.
Where it has been for 400 years. And counting.