I didn’t follow the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. And I managed to never watch the video of the murder. The truth is that I find these things very upsetting and I don’t think they do me any good. I already know that American policing is irredeemably broken. But I think Derek Chauvin shows us a lot about the problems in our society.
I am glad that Derek Chauvin was found guilty. And second-degree murder sounds about right. I think it is a mistake to vilify him too much. I do not believe that he wanted to kill George Floyd. But I think he is a terrible person because he doesn’t seem to have cared whether Floyd lived or died.
An analogy has occurred to me recently. It’s like holding a beetle down on the ground so it can’t crawl away. Doing so presses on its back. You don’t mean to kill it. But you realize that it might. It’s just a beetle. If you do kill it, who cares? Certainly not you.
Yes, I’m saying that Chauvin thought of Floyd like an insect. He should never have been allowed in a position of power. And he deserves harsh punishment.
Police Hide Villainy
But let’s be clear. The initial report told a very different story — one that Chauvin assumed would be the final word. The press release from the Minneapolis Police Department was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” It stated:
Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
If there had not been video of the incident, Derek Chauvin would not have been held accountable in any way for this. And that’s even true if there had been a dozen eyewitnesses. He is in jail now entirely because of the video.
Men like him should never be put in any situation where they have power over other people. They lack fundamental empathy for other people.
Derek Chauvin is also a victim. But in saying that, I do not mean that we should show him sympathy. I just mean that the environment in which he existed made him a worse man than he could have been.
Chauvin’s actions indicate a long history of him thinking that this kind of behavior is acceptable. We know there had been many complaints against him. And they were never acted upon in a substantial way. It was completely rational for Chauvin to think that he would not be held accountable for this killing.
But the fact that this crime was particularly egregious speaks to a larger problem with police culture. I don’t think that Chauvin would have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for so long had there not been a crowd there. The fact that there was a crowd pointing out his misbehavior made Chauvin act like a spoiled child, “You can’t tell me what to do!”
And, of course, that’s what he did! We see this again and again. Police officers are far more concerned about getting the respect that they think they deserve than they are about doing their jobs. If you are rude to a barista, they might spit in your coffee. If you are rude to a cop, they might kill you. And if no one is around to record it, they will face no consequences.
And it’s that way that Derek Chauvin is a symbol for modern American policing. I don’t care what kind of a cop it is — good, bad, or indifferent — they all act this way. I know a few cops who are friends of the family. They all have this same personality.
I think they are deeply insecure people. Certainly I don’t need other people constantly kissing my ass to know that I have value. Anywhere someone does need that is the source of untold problems — whether it is from cops or grammar school bullies.
The irony is that our society does kiss the asses of cops. Except for rare cases like this, society goes out of its way to claim that these under-educated, over-paid mediocrities are heroes right out of Homer. (And even in this case, most conservative outlets are treating Chauvin like a wronged hero.) Yet it’s never enough. How could it be? Self-worth is something that comes from the inside. Flattery is just a band-aid.
I’m not hopeful. I do hope that we can make systemic changes to policing. But even with them, we will have major problems until we stop allowing cops to think that they are anything but paid workers who do not deserve our respect.
I’m open to respecting individual police officers — just as soon as one of them earns it.