The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police on March 2020 was clearly not first degree murder. The state prosecution in bringing the charge, the defence, the judge, the jury, the press and the political class all concurred on the fact that the actions of the police officers in arresting and subduing George Floyd were not deliberately intended to kill him. His death was an unintended consequence of the routine, authorised, police intention to force a submission upon someone they became (or become) determined to arrest.
It is important to recognise that – as yet – the role of police officers in particular and law enforcement in general, is to enforce total citizen submission to the authority of the state. The four-man police tag-team sent to the scene of George Floyd’s arrest, tried a number of unsuccessful times to bundle him into the back of a police vehicle. He resisted. At this point Derek Chauvin took charge of the operation of enforcing George Floyd to submit to their demands.
Recognising the difficulty of forcing a large unwilling man into such a small space, officer Chauvin soon decided another tactic was necessary to enforce his submission to police authority. This tactic was implemented by manhandling him to the ground and officer Chauvin pinning him there ‘for as long as it took‘. Compliance, with every instruction given to him – to the letter – was required by the men in blue. However, it took 9 minutes and 29 seconds to achieve the level of preliminary submission that Derek Chauvin felt was necessary in this particular case.
Unfortunately for George and many bystanders, this amount of time was too long. Already handcuffed, a knee was placed upon one side of George’s neck, the pavement pressed against the other side of the neck, another knee on his back, with other officers holding his legs down, the new tactic was accomplished. As the video footage demonstrates this was a ruthless and reckless enforcing of an absolute submission attempt on a helpless victim. Eventually, after 9 minutes and 29 seconds, George’s struggle to breathe was over. Every living spark within him had been subdued – he died!
Sadly, during this police initiated, one-sided, mixed martial arts event, there was no neutral referee present to step in and make sure the neck and back holds were released before the life was squeezed out of the now prone and inert body of George Floyd. Some concerned bystanders (including an off-duty first responder) tried to play the part of unofficial referees by pointing out he was helpless and the submission holds were going to harm him if maintained for too long.
But the police are taught that citizens have no rights to advise police or comment upon their conduct. Bystanders are seen as the problem – as Mr Chauvin’s defence lawyer later emphasised.
And this brings us to the real crux of the matter; beyond this particular event, the power of the modern state and its armed bodies of men versus the powerless citizens. It matters, little whether the power of the modern state is exercised in Africa, Arabia, Asia, Russia, China, Hong Kong South America, North America or Europe, the relationship between the modern state and its citizens is essentially the same.
Total submission to authority by anyone, guilty or innocent – to be achieved by whatever means necessary – is routine procedure for police officers and law enforcement regimes the world over. Deaths in police custody are nothing new because sometimes it takes extreme measures to make someone submit to a kind of authority which is admittedly biased, deeply prejudiced, possibly corrupt, frequently gratuitously brutal and more concerned with achieving performance levels of crime prevention, and self-preservation than achieving social justice.
So not surprisingly there is something revealing about the personification of law enforcement as witnessed on the face of Derek Chauvin. The filming of the event by a young bystander was the main reason why this particular death in police custody became subject to a criminal prosecution. It was just too blatant and too public to cover up the death in the usual officially internal manner. Hence the court case and the subsequent verdict of murder and manslaughter. But over the 9 plus minutes of filming what was was expressed in the face and body demeanour of the officer who ended George Floyd life was revealing.
It has been said that during the 9 minutes twenty nine seconds, officer Chauvin’s eyes were cold and emotionless, his manner cool and collected, but I beg to differ. Face and body languages reveal much and we humans have evolved to judge even the most subtle changes. Over the nine minutes it was clear from Derek Chauvin’s eyes, facial muscles and arm movements that something of a change was occurring in his mind. From an initial concern in his eyes and his body posture that George Floyd should be physically prevented from turning on his side or sitting up, once this aim was achieved a noticeable change occurred.
When his victim was finally still, a subtle change of facial expression in Derek Chauvin happened. A degree of satisfaction now registered on his face and, no longer needing two hands and two knees he placed his left hand in his left pants pocket. He then looked up toward the bystanders as if to indicate publicly this successful submission. If you doubt this – carefully watch the footage again! I suggest he was so pleased with his victory over George (where the other more junior officers had failed) that he continued this position of domination despite suggestions from other officers and bystanders, that perhaps enough was enough.
He maintained this position of superiority and dominance until the paramedics arrived. However, when he finally stepped away from his helpless victim his victory became a pyrrhic one. He had won the battle to subdue George Floyd but having lost his humanity, he then lost his credibility and later his job and freedom. But the eventual legally sanctioned sacrifice of Derek Chauvin to the court of popular opinion, has not altered the essential bifurcation between the state elites law enforcement agencies and the people. Until the entire system is transformed, this unremitting strategy of elite-directed, class warfare will continue unabated (and mostly undetected) even if some new tactics are in the meantime adopted.
Roy Ratcliffe ( April 2021)