Dissecting a Life

The George Floyd Example

Virtually the whole world has seen the 9-minute film depicting Floyd’s murder. And make no mistake, by any common definition of the word, Derek Chauvin did indeed murder George Floyd.

But, as is usual in cases of white police officers accused of unnecessary violence against people of color, Derek Chauvin is not the only one on trial. Instead, his lawyers have tried mightily to blame Floyd himself, insisting the drugs in Floyd’s system were the cause of his death rather than the force of Chauvin’s knee on his neck, and jumping at every opportunity to highlight Floyd’s troubled past.

It’s a tactic well-known in rape cases, where victims of sexual violence are accused of “inviting” the violence against them by their choices of clothing or drunken flirtations, and whose entire sexual histories become fair game for defense lawyers to use to suggest that “sluts” somehow forfeit the right to say “no.”

In both circumstances, the strategy is simple: paint the victim as “different” — in appearance, behavior or myriad other ways — and suggest they are therefore less entitled to equal justice under law.

In the moments before George Floyd died, it mattered not a whit – legally or ethically – that Floyd was a drug user, or that he had passed a counterfeit $20 bill to a store clerk. The ONLY thing that mattered was Chauvin’s knee, pressed on Floyd’s neck long after he had been effectively restrained.

To its credit, the Minneapolis law enforcement establishment seems to want nothing to do with this defense. Police officials have been clear and adamant in saying that Chauvin’s actions weren’t justified and were inconsistent with both his training and department policies on use of force. The medical experts have been forthright and insistent in declaring that the cause of death was not drugs, but the inadequate flow of oxygen in Floyd’s body.

That is an all-to-rare exception to the famous “thin blue line” hagiology that insists it’s a betrayal for one officer to testify against another, or that their jobs are so dangerous and stressful that deadly mistakes are inevitable.

There was nothing inevitable about George Floyd’s death. There were several long, excruciating minutes when Chauvin could have recognized he had gone too far, when one of the other officers on the scene could have intervened to save Floyd’s life, when any of them could have heeded the pleas of the bystanders (who are also being blamed by Chauvin’s lawyers – for the added “pressure” they brought to the situation by videotaping it and begging the officers to ease up.)

It is too soon to predict how this case will turn out, but it is possible to see signs of hope in the case the prosecution has presented so far. Whether it’s enough to overcome the ingrained advantages Chauvin enjoys, or to persuade 12 ordinary, fallible human beings to unite in declaring Chauvin guilty of murder, remains to be seen.

Such ambitious hopes have been dashed – over and over again – but the dreams of a more just society will persist.


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