George Floyd - A Fault Line That Devides Our Society

(posted 9-21-2020) - George Floyd was a frightened soul (based on police bodycam footage). He was terrified of the police in general, and of being constrained and placed in their vehicle in particular. He never attacked, but did not cooperate or seem to understand that a calm demeanor was his best defense.

Official autopsy reports indicate that some portion of his terror and pulmonary failure were exacerbated by recent ingestion of fentanyl. But he died of asphyxiation which was significantly brought on by compression of his neck.

Watching the bodycam video I did not get the impression that the police were intent on harming Mr. Floyd. For them it was just business as usual. Another non-cooperative, somewhat irrational (they supposed PCP on the scene) individual who had been identified by a store clerk as passing counterfeit monies. They tell Mr. Floyd the reason for his apprehension as they try to get him into their vehicle.

Mr. Floyd is obviously terrified and having some distress long before he is on the ground. While standing he says multiple times that he feels bad; and when they try to put him in the police vehicle he pleads for them to sit with him in the car -- he uses the words claustrophobic repeatedly. The police say they will roll down the windows once he is seated and one policeman moves to the opposite door, opens it and tries to pull Mr. Floyd into the vehicle. Floyd pushes out the other side screaming he can't breath and that he cannot sit in the car.

Any rational person should see this as a man in extremis -- the police believe he is on PCP and say so to each other. Just another amped up drug user so they stretch him out on the road and call for backup.

It all goes totally south from there as his cries that he cannot breath become fainter and fainter even as the police continue to restrain him on the ground. One officer asks if he should be rolled onto his side but the other officer continues to kneel on his back and neck. He dies...

The bodycam video from the assisting officer doesn't clearly show officer Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd. But at the very least I do consider what can be seen as evidence of negligent homicide. This scenario - which plays out in numerous variations across the land every hour of every day - could be avoided through dramatically different policing tactics. Let me explain.

A question needs to be asked - why do police need personal side arms which they pull out at the slightest (or non-existent) provocation for personal defense, or to project control? Mr. Floyd became terrified when the policeman pulled out a gun as he sat in his own vehicle - the police make quick decisions about whether an individual is a potential threat. Why do they feel so at risk? Nationally policing is a lower risk than many other occupations.

To put the risk of policing in perspective: fisherman and loggers are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, a farmer is 2 times more likely to die on the job, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

Many societies do not provide side-arms to officers, others provide secured long weapons in police vehicles - to be released on request by officers. My point here is that the US has a historically very high number of officer involved shootings in which no rational person would argue the officer would have been harmed if they had no sidearm. Most shootings involve officers mistaking a subject's intent (unarmed person shot), or deaths where the officer shoots a fleeing suspect, or when an officer shoots a suspect who holds a knife or blunt instrument.

Non-violent crimes should be policed by unarmed officers. Non-criminal disturbances should be responded to with social workers not police. This is at the heart of most defunding police department arguments. Police are the generic response to a domain of problems that would be better served with non-police trained agents. We need to move police budgets to include social services, with health and human resource agents trained to handle non-violent, but troubled individuals.

When 911 calls come to police call centers they need to dispatch them appropriately based on the emergency type. When police see a problem in real-time on the street they need to determine whether they need to intervene or call a social service agent to the scene. Obviously, funding should be split between the two service branches appropriate to each communities' needs.

So, George Floyd's death was a match that lit a fire in the public's imagination. Which way will we go as a society? 50 states, with hundreds of counties will undoubtedly go in all directions. But the federal government could go a long way towards passing legislation and funding that changes the nature of the policing function in the US. It certainly needs improvement.

It's been fifty years now, but I still remember the initial shock of an unmarked car pulling alongside me and two city police jumping out with guns pointing at me as I stood on a lonely dark side-street. If I was already deeply fearful and distrustful of police intent, and if I was intoxicated at the time I might not have talked those two down and made it clear they had no need to 'fear me' as they would have said if I'd ended up dead on the street. So yeah, I have some sympathy for Mr. Floyd even though I know he could have avoided death if only he had been cool and calm. It's all mostly avoidable folks; till it isn't.