Protect and Serve. That is the motto of police services around the country, but those words rang hollow recently in Minneapolis when a police officer named Derek Chauvin casually snuffed the life out …
Protect and Serve. That is the motto of police services around the country, but those words rang hollow recently in Minneapolis when a police officer named Derek Chauvin casually snuffed the life out of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident, who was among those Chauvin had sworn to protect and serve.
It was Chauvin’s nonchalance about his cold-blooded act that was perhaps the most upsetting thing to watch in the video, now viewed by tens of millions. Chauvin undoubtedly knew he was being video recorded, yet his lack of concern could not have been more evident. For him, the murder of an unresistant, handcuffed and prostrate black man was an act for which he justifiably believed he would face no accountability. He kneeled for more than eight minutes on the neck of George Floyd, until the man was dead, because he believed, as a police officer, that he could act out his racial hatred and get away with it. Given the long and tragic history of unaccountable police brutality against African-Americans in this country, Chauvin had little reason to fear he would face consequences, regardless of the evidence made available to prosecutors. We can only hope that George Floyd’s death will signal an end to that mindset among police forces everywhere. We recognize, however, that it will likely take much more than this to change the authoritarian culture that infects far too many police forces and their unions.
Chauvin’s actions, and the lack of intervention by his fellow police officers as Mr. Floyd pled for his life and later lost consciousness, served and protected no one. While Chauvin, undoubtedly, sees himself as the victim (because his kind always does), his actions predictably sparked days of rage that have devastated the Twin Cities and other major U.S. cities and stained Minnesota’s reputation.
Perhaps, more than anything, it was the symbolism of Derek Chauvin’s actions that sparked such rage in the African-American community. For four centuries, African-Americans have felt the heavy knee of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, income disparities, and a horrible legacy of white violence against them, often perpetrated by the police themselves. For four centuries, they have been denied equal rights and justice in America. Here, in supposedly progressive Minnesota, African-Americans experience some of the worst disparities in educational achievement, income, and wealth, in the country. And as this goes to press, the Minneapolis police union president, Bob Kroll, is vowing to have all of the officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death, including Chauvin, reinstated to their jobs. With leadership like that, we’re clearly in for a long struggle for reform.
For those who think that this isn’t a racial issue, ask yourself how many white families have to sit their sons and daughters down as teenagers and teach them how to avoid being killed by the police. For African-American teens, the talk is a veritable rite of passage. Protect and serve? That’s not the reality in the African-American community— and it never has been.
The destruction that followed in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death was tragic and, if possible, those responsible should be brought to justice. Yet, it’s worth noting that the individuals who burned and looted weren’t engaged in such mayhem as trained officers of the law. They weren’t being paid by the taxpayers of Minneapolis to undertake acts of violence. Derek Chauvin and the officers who stood by and watched him kill George Floyd, were doing so on the city’s dime. City taxpayers paid for their training. These police officers worked for an institution that maintained policies that supposedly require them to intervene when they witness an officer using excessive force. Yet every one of the officers involved in this incident did absolutely nothing to prevent Mr. Floyd’s death. They neither protected nor served their community. They acted with callous disregard and their community has burned as a result. They failed Minneapolis and they failed Minnesota. In every single way.