Derek Chauvin as Villain, Victim, and Symbol

Derek Chauvin

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.

Villain

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.

Victim

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.

Symbol

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.


Derek Chauvin Murdering George Floyd image used under Fair Use.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Derek Chauvin as Villain, Victim, and Symbol

  1. Why Hennepin County Medical Center? It’s a fine hospital, but it’s 30 blocks from where George Floyd was murdered. Abbott Northwestern Hospital, also excellent, is less than 10.

    I don’t blame anybody on that, I’m sure it was an honest mistake… but it was a mistake. Although Floyd was probably beyond medical help, that wouldn’t have been the case if paramedics were summoned earlier.

    • Everything I know about such matters I learned from Bringing Out the Dead. So I assume all EMTs are crazy. But yes, I’m sure it was too late by the time they arrived.

  2. Such an excellent article. I agree with you that had there been no video that there would have been no accountability or trial .
    I’ve learned many decades ago that America is not everything the brochure said it was. With that said, there is a case to be made that it takes a police force of thugs to slow the spread of criminal gangs,etc. Like citizens don’t want their trash not picked up and left to pile up at the curb , citizens want safe streets and safe schools ,etc. The citizens don’t want to carry away the trash or go after bank robbers and sex traffickers, they want someone else to do those dirty jobs.

    • First, I love that phrase and slightly changed, it would make a good bumper sticker, “America: Don’t Believe the Brochure!”

      There is no doubt that people must feel safe. And we on the left need to understand this if we want to accomplish our goals of making the country fairer. But I don’t much think that the police are making us safe. The number of unsolved murders simply goes up. As for prevention, the police seem to exist mostly to micro-manage the poor. There is definitely a place for policing but we need to rethink what we are doing. What we get is this double-argument: “Crime is down, give us money because we’re doing a great job!” and “Crime is up, give us money because we need more police!” Ultimately the problem is our political system where there is no downside for increasing policing while anyone who cuts it has worry that a single crime will be used as a cudgel. Look at the “Willie Horton” ad and how this one crime was used to vilify a politician and a widespread program.

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