Wissot: Because they could
Want to know why rioters turned peaceful protests over the murder of George Floyd into a reign of anarchic carnage in cities across the country? Because they could.
Police in riot gear trying to contain roving bands of looters, vandals and arsonists are restricted in how much force they can use against criminals mixed in with peaceful protestors assembled to protest police brutality. Advantage rioters.
The same kind of advantage went to the cops who nonchalantly allowed the air to leave Floyd’s lungs until no trace of his pulse could be detected. They killed him because they could. Derek Chauvin, the officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd gasped for breath while telling him repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe, did what he did because he knew something that you and I didn’t.
Minneapolis’ code for lawful police conduct allows a cop to “choke someone unconscious if the person is exhibiting active resistance.”
Bet your bottom dollar that Chauvin’s defense attorney will be using that provision when he argues in court that Floyd was “actively resisting arrest” and that Chauvin — was acting lawfully in rendering him unconscious. The fact that Floyd was rendered permanently unconscious was something, he will claim, Chauvin couldn’t have foreseen.
The crime committed by the Minneapolis Four stands as another ugly stain on the history of race relations between the police and communities of color. Chauvin racked up a dozen complaints from the public in his 19 years as an officer, yet none of which led to discipline, according to reporting done by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism outlet focused on criminal justice.
Very few cops take the excessive use of force to the point of murder. Police forces have their fair share of racists, not murderers. Racism exists in the ranks of the men and women in blue because racism is still a prevalent social virus for which we haven’t discovered a vaccine. The only people who question that statement are racists. They pass by the mirror of self-awareness and fail to see themselves.
The first instance of police brutality against an unarmed black man captured on video was in 1991 and involved Rodney King. King was no angel. He had served time for armed robbery. King led the Los Angeles Police Department on a wild car chase lasting several hours because he was intoxicated and didn’t want to be stopped and charged with violating his parole for that robbery conviction.
King was spared Floyd’s fate because the chokehold had been banned 10 years earlier by the LAPD following “a series of black suspects who died after it was used on them.”
Instead, 56 baton blows were used to beat the crap out of him by a gang of pissed-off cops who didn’t know they were being filmed and thought they could go ballistic without fear of reprisal.
I fully respect the police and the authority officers are given. I need them because I am incapable of protecting myself from criminal harm. I also respect them because I know their jobs are difficult and dangerous and often go unappreciated by the public. I know I would make a lousy cop.
Frankly, I am afraid of 6-foot-6 black men like George Floyd who looked like he just got off of the Minnesota Vikings practice field. To be fair, though, I am also afraid of big white men, big white women, big black women, children who are large for their age, dogs and feral cats. In a word, I am a coward. If I were a cop, the motto on my squad car would read: To retreat and run.
Given the fact that police work is inherently perilous, cops should be given the latitude to use excessive force in instances where their own lives or that of others are endangered. But neither was in play in George Floyd’s case. A scenario in which the suspect was lying on his stomach, handcuffed, with one cop kneeling on his neck and three other cops fully armed hovering over him, posed a threat to no one but Floyd.
The offense he was arrested for was passing counterfeit money, hardly a threat to public safety. If the only way to arrest Floyd was to kill him, I would have preferred that he escaped. Having him on the run would have been better than having him in a grave. A counterfeiter avoiding arrest doesn’t disturb me nearly as much as a murderer evading justice.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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