A police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Many folks, including me, think that was wrong. Some have been getting together to protest George Floyd’s death. The protests started in Minneapolis and are now international.
I haven’t joined a public protest, and almost certainly won’t. It’s not that I don’t care. I’m in my upper 60s, with health issues, live in a town about two and a half hours from Minneapolis — and there’s still a pandemic in progress.
Some folks have been setting fire to buildings and cars. Maybe they’re protesting, maybe they simply enjoy burning other people’s property.
The trouble started — uncounted ages ago, when humanity was young. That’s a topic I’ll save for another day.
What I have to say about the George Floyd brouhaha is long enough as it is.
- Last Week, Minneapolis: Today, the World
- 2016-2017 in Retrospect: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Dallas
- Imagine: and Remember
- Allegiance and Aspirations
- Something Worth Trying
George Floyd may or may not have used a counterfeit $20 bill in a deli on May 25, 2020. What’s more certain is that someone called the police.
Four showed up to arrest Mr. Floyd.
The police quartet’s version of what happened next is that Mr. Floyd “physically resisted” them when told to leave his vehicle.
A nearby restaurant’s security camera suggests that Mr. Floyd fell down several times.
The official version of his arrest and death says that he resisted by falling down.
Then one of the enforcers knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
While bystanders recorded most of the incident on their smartphones.
Or maybe while one bystander livestreamed the incident to Facebook.
I’ve seen both versions reported.
The livestreamed and recorded video apparently shows Mr. Floyd saying things like “please”, “I can’t breathe” and “Don’t kill me.”
Then he stopped moving. Or breathing.
Eventually, one of the enforcers checked the suspect’s pulse. He didn’t have one. Some time later, medical experts confirmed that Mr. Floyd was dead.
All four enforcers were fired the next day.
One of them is now facing murder and manslaughter charges. The rest have legal trouble too.
Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands — make that knee — of a city employee inspired protests.1
On the ‘up’ side, quite a few folks protesting Mr. Floyd’s death didn’t set fire to buildings, and many buildings in Minneapolis have not been burned.
- “More George Floyd protests planned in NYC, but no curfew after another night of clashes, violence”
Eyewitness News, WABC/abc7NY (May 31, 2020)
- “George Floyd death: Minnesota governor decries violent protests”
BBC News (May 30, 2020)
- “Pentagon Orders Military Police To Prepare To Deploy To Minnesota”
Jason Slotkin/NPR, KPBS (May 30, 2020)
- “Minnesota To Deploy Record Guard Force To Contain Unrest Over Death Of George Floyd”
Colin Dwyer, NPR (May 30, 2020)
- “St. Cloud Target Stores, Others Closing Early”
WJON (May 29, 2020)
And, inevitably, glitterati and politicos have made the sort of statements we’ve come to expect from glitterati and politicos.2
Maybe grandstanders mean well. Maybe they really believe what they say. Or don’t bother to think before dropping topical terms into oral boilerplate.
Meanwhile, folks who worked for incinerated businesses have unpaid vacations. Folks who owned and operated the gutted ruins are most likely wondering what they’ll do now. Their (former) employees most likely have similar thoughts.
My guess is that owners of many stores are taking their cue from Target: shuttering their doors and making plans for rebuilding when and if it’s safe.
“Target now closing more stores across Minnesota until further notice”
Adam Uren, Bring Me The News (May 30, 2020)
“…Target also pledged on Friday to restore and reopen the heavily damage store at East Lake Street, which was damaged in the Thursday night unrest.
“‘Target will prioritize the rebuilding and reopening of its store located at 2500 E. Lake Street, preserving approximately 200 local jobs,’ it said.
“‘The timing of construction will be determined in the coming weeks, with the goal of opening in late 2020. Target will also reopen other damaged stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in the coming weeks.’…”
Safe, and financially possible. Target probably has insurance and resources to cover costs. I’m not so sure about Mom and Pop stores.
A fair number of Minnesotans decided that organized protests which don’t involve arson made sense.
I think they’re right, although admittedly the work of nighttime incendiarists may seem more newsworthy. And therefor gets more attention. It photographs well, at any rate.
Folks of both persuasions have been active since Mr. Floyd died, in Minnesota’s largest urban center and elsewhere.
- “George Floyd death: Thousands protest across central London”
BBC News (May 31, 2020)
- “Tired of watching their city burn, Minneapolis neighborhoods defend themselves”
MPR (May 31, 2020)
- “VIDEO: Aztec dance performance during peaceful protest in Minneapolis”
(May 31, 2020)
- “A list of the buildings damaged, looted in Minneapolis and St. Paul”
Adam Uren, Bring Me The News (May 31, 2020)
About the “Tired of watching…” headline — Some folks in Minneapolis took a page from 13th century London’s playbook.3 They’ve organized night watches.
Except London’s watchmen were officially sanctioned. I’m not sure about the status of folks in Minneapolis who are trying to protect themselves and their neighbors.
Their apparent motive, defending innocent folks from violence, seems reasonable. Whether it’s legal is another matter.
I think they’re right.
I also think I’d better explain a few things before going on.
I don’t know why one of the four enforcers killed George Floyd.
Conventional wisdom, today’s version, says that the motive must be ethnic rivalry. The enforcer’s ancestors are from Europe and Mr. Floyd’s are from Africa.
Maybe that’s the motive. It’s a plausible explanation.
Ethnic rivalry seems to be why Hutu killed Tutsi and Twa, along with insufficiently-Hutu Hutu. It’s added fuel to an Armenia-Azerbaijan border dispute, and may be part of India’s Dalit problem. Or the Dalit’s problem with India.
Or maybe the enforcer had been contemplating the existential implications of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and forgot that he was kneeling on someone’s neck.
Or maybe trouble at home had him so upset that he killed the first available victim. His wife filed for divorce on May 28, three days after Mr. Floyd’s death.4 That suggests, but doesn’t prove, that their marriage was rocky before the 25th.
“…The filing cites an ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ that was beyond saving….”
(Scottie Andrew, CNN, CNN (June 2, 2020)
Stress, marital or otherwise, isn’t an excuse for homicide. But it is another plausible motive.
I do not know why Mr. Floyd was killed. Only that someone who should have known better killed him.
(From Fibonacci Blue, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(George Floyd memorial: Chicago Avenue and 28th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Floyd was killed at the Cup Foods corner. (May 30, 2020))
I also do not know why all four enforcers didn’t stop what one of them was doing. Or confiscate the bystanders’ personal electronic devices, interrupting the livestream video.
A principle my father taught me might apply here: never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Or ignorance.
Smartphones and similar devices are about the same size and shape as old-school cigarette holders. But folks using them don’t hold them the same way.
Maybe the enforcers simply didn’t know about smartphones, or didn’t realize that kneeling on someone’s neck can end in death, or thought that nobody would care if one of them killed some guy who’d fallen down.
If those four really were that stupid or ignorant, Minneapolis has a huge problem. Police are not supposed to be scrapings from the underside of society’s barrel. Not outside the occasional Hollywood B movie, and that’s another topic.
If Floyd’s killing wasn’t a one-off aberration, an outlier in the city’s police department behavior, Minneapolis has another huge problem.
Another killing, four years back, in Minnesota’s major metropolitan area had unsettling parallels to the recent incident.
In any case, Minneapolis and the rest of Minnesota’s Metro has a huge problem. Justifiably or not, a significant fraction of folks living there seem to be losing whatever respect they had for the city’s authority.
Maybe Philando Castile was at fault for getting killed. I don’t think so, but it’s a possible assumption from an alternatively-reasonable viewpoint. Maybe if Mr. Castile’s ancestors had been mostly from northwestern Europe, he’d be alive today.
He’d been driving in a St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb when a traffic enforcer pulled him over and told him to show his driver’s license and registration.
Mr. Castile was doing so when he told the enforcer that he had a firearm. A somewhat-muddled conversation followed, during which Mr. Castile persisted in trying to show his papers.
That’s when the enforcer shot at him. Seven times. At close range. Five of the shots hit Mr. Castile, who died 20 minutes later.
The incident might have ended there, if Mr. Castile had not been with his partner and daughter. And if his partner hadn’t had the presence of mind to upload live stream video of the conversation.
Quite a few folks thought that killing Philando Castile was wrong. Many protested publicly.5
So did folks who thought Alton Sterling shouldn’t be dead.
On July 5, two days earlier, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, killed Alton Sterling. Motives and responsibility for that death are a can of worms I’d rather not open.
Getting back to Micah Xavier Johnson. Philando Castile’s killing on July 6 apparently sent Mr. Johnson over the edge.
Mr. Johnson got his 15 minutes of fame by ambushing and killing several law enforcement officers. He said that Sterling’s and Castile’s killings made him angry and that he wanted to kill white people. Particularly white police officers.
Having made his statement, he took shelter in a building and wouldn’t come out.
He’s now also famous for being the first American killed by a police robot.
The Alton Sterling incident did not result in criminal charges, although it took two years of investigations to reach that decision.
I don’t know how much Micah Xavier Johnson knew about Philando Castile’s killer, Jeronimo Yanez.
Yanez was a police officer. Therefore, from at least one viewpoint, he’s white. Given the assumption that anyone with a non-criminal source of income is white. That viewpoint was in flower when I last did time in academia, and that’s yet another topic.
From another viewpoint, the Yanez name and his ancestry allow the Hispanic-American label.
My view is that Yanez was a police officer who killed someone, was fired and charged with serious crimes. He was tried a year later.
The verdict was not guilty on all counts.6
Maybe the Minnesota jury was right, maybe not.
Maybe the state’s case could have been managed more effectively. I don’t know.
My guess is that at least a few of the folks who are upset about George Floyd’s killing remember what happened in 2016, in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas.
And feel that justice failed then. And will fail now.
Maybe I understand that viewpoint. Which doesn’t mean that I approve of arson and looting.
There’s a smidgen of truth to both.
Mr. Floyd’s killer is white. Not all white folks are white supremacists. But some are.
There really are anarchists: folks who believe that we’d be better off without governments.
That’s an enormous oversimplification. The political philosophy and movement is nowhere near that simple.7
Anarchism starts looking good when folks in charge act badly, or seem to be confused about what’s real, and what they’d like to be real.
That may help explain the lasting popularity of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (January 8, 2018)
I think “all the people – Living life in peace” is a good idea, and something to work toward.
I also think we won’t get most people living life without regular riots and arson by ridding ourselves of mayors, governors, congresspersons, presidents and police.
Bad as it is, Minnesota’s and America’s current situation could be worse.
We could be living in the 1880s.
I’ve talked about the Haymarket incident before. (September 1, 2019)
Chicago workers felt exploited. They were right, by today’s standards.
On May 4, 1886, they gathered in Haymarket Square, showing support for an eight-hour work day. Their protest was peaceful, because or in spite of a massive police presence.
Then Chicago’s police started dispersing the crowd. Someone, we still don’t know who, threw a bomb which dispersed seven police officers and four civilians. Maybe more.
The police opened fire on the crowd, scoring one kill. Maybe more. Numbers vary, depending on who’s telling the story.
Remember, this was 1886. Eight hour working days weren’t an accepted standard. Some of the upper crust feared unions.
The Haymarket story became international news.
Folks took sides.
Politicos, led by public opinion, did their best to smother unions. They also defended Americans from unions, anarchists and immigrants. Particularly Germans and Bohemians.
Police raided the lairs of (suspected) anarchists.
Four were killed. One committed suicide.
Survivors were, eventually, pardoned.
Unions endured, and got their eight-hour work days.8
I’m no great fan of today’s unions. But I was born during the Truman administration. I live in an America where unions are part of the establishment, and that’s yet again another topic.
Or maybe not so much.
Injustice exists, and has existed.
Some folks behave badly. That’s nothing new either.
But many of us learn: and change our society.
Some of those changes are, I think, improvements.
“…What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, ‘hooray for our side’….”
(“For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield, via AZLyrics.com)
George Floyd protests have been daily headline news.
The protestors’ signs demand justice and declare that some lives matter. But I’ve yet to see a sign that says “hooray for” anyone or anything. Not in those words.
They all show disapproval of Mr. Floyd’s death.
Maybe someone’s arranged a “hooray for impromptu executions” demonstration. If so, it’s been low-profile.
Or maybe “they” aren’t letting us see the mammoth outpouring of support for George Floyd’s killing. No, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.
On the other hand, there’s no shortage of the usual conspiracy theories: blaming the other party, rich people, foreigners or some combination thereof. Or claiming that the police or the government supplied bricks to rioters. Or — you get the picture.9
Floyd-inspired demonstrations I’ve read about seem to be expressions of anger against someone or something. And, on a more positive note, assertions that justice is a good idea.
So, if I was carrying a sign saying “hooray for our side,” which side would that be?
(From Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“…Is it not your duty to know what is right…?” (Micah 3:1))
Don’t get me wrong. I like being an American. But I am not convinced that “we” can do no wrong, while “they” are in league with Satan. Or fascists. Or whatever.
However, I think justice is important.
So is love.
These are not new ideas.
“You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
“Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Everyone seems to want justice. That isn’t a bad thing, but I strongly suspect that we don’t all share the same definition of “justice.”
I get the impression that love is a harder sell. And that those who say love is a good idea don’t all see it the same way.
Even folks who say love is a good idea and seem to be on the same page about what “love” is sometimes have trouble acting as if they believe it.
This isn’t new, either.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
“But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”
I’m a Catholic, which doesn’t involve unthinking loyalty and obedience to the pope. Or anyone else. Maybe I’d better explain.
Make that should get along.
There’s nothing forcing me to think about what I believe, or wonder why I believe it.
Like every other human, I have a brain.
I don’t have to use my brain. But my experience suggests that I’m better off if I think before I act.
Emotions are part of being human, too. They’re part of a package that’s “very good.” But an emotion isn’t good or bad by itself. What matters is what and how I think about the emotion, and what I decide to do about it. (Genesis 1:27–31; Catechism, 1763, 1767)
Ideally, my reason and will would all be in sync. What I feel, think and do would continually honor and obey God. (Catechism, 1770)
They’re not, I don’t, and that’s almost another topic.
That sort of love is a good idea.
Chickenman! A fantastic foul, dedicated to the never-ending fight against crime and/or evil!
Dick Orkin’s Chickenman radio series was anything but serious. Or “relevant,” as earnest folks said in those days.
But perhaps a meaningful message lurked behind Chickenman’s commitment to fighting crime and/or evil.
Or maybe not. But I’ll talk about positive law and natural law, anyway.
The Code of Hammurabi, Lex Visigothorum, CISG and Minnesota Statutes are examples of positive law: rules that we’ve made up.10
We change or replace our laws fairly often.
If we didn’t, we’d be stuck with rules that no longer fit today’s circumstances. (Catechism, 1957)
We don’t live in an ideal world.
Sometimes what’s legal isn’t right, and what’s wrong isn’t illegal.
When positive law, rules we’ve made up, violates natural law, it’s time to change our rules.
This is also far from a new idea.
“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.'”
(Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963))
“An unjust law is no law at all.”
(“On Free Choice Of The Will,” Book 1, § 5, Augustine of Hippo (387–389))
“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.”
(“De Legibus (On the Laws),” Cicero (1st century BC))
The problem isn’t having leaders and a government. It’s what some leaders and governments do that causes trouble.
Our lives are easier if someone’s coordinating our efforts: wisely and justly.
Leaders aren’t the only folks with responsibility. As a citizen, I should respect authority.
Legitimate authority. (Catechism, 1903)
Here’s where it get interesting.
Sometimes the folks in charge make laws and give orders that are violations of natural law.
The trick, I think, is to know the difference between ‘I don’t like this’ and ‘this is wrong.’
And to remember that doing something bad because someone else did something bad isn’t a good idea.
Humans are social creatures. Living in and being part of a society is natural for us. Being part of a society means supporting the common good. And, if we’re doing what we should, the common good would include helping me. (Catechism, 1878–1885, 1905–1917)
Which gets me to “the common good.”
“Common good” is a philosophical concept — several, actually — a political slogan, a political action group and a soap company.11
The Catholic version of the common good is the sum of social conditions that let individuals and groups reach fulfillment. (Catechism, 1906)
“…the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment….”
(“Gaudium et spes,” Pope St. Paul VI (December 7, 1965))
- Respect for the person, for individuals
- Concern for the group’s well-being and development
- Peace: stability and order
Even assuming that Mr. Floyd knowingly tried to use a bogus $20 bill and deliberately fell down to vex a police officer, I can’t see killing him as working for the common good.
Folks who have been showing their disapproval of Mr. Floyd’s death — without destroying property — arguably are supporting the common good.
Those who have been lighting up the night with automobile flambé and torching neighborhood stores? Maybe not so much.
Aside from the homicide’s inspiration of destructive behavior.
That’s one reason I don’t have a problem with Minnesota authorities charging Mr. Floyd’s killer with murder and manslaughter.
- “Chauvin And 3 Former Officers Face New Charges Over George Floyd’s Death”
Bill Chappell, NPR (June 3, 2020)
- “George Floyd and Derek Chauvin Were Once Co-Workers, Ex-Club Owner Tells TV Station”
Austin Horn, NPR (May 29, 2020)
Headlines I’ve seen strongly suggest that we’re now well into the political phase of coverage: where we’re told who to blame and who to vote for. And that’s still another topic.
There may be a chance that Derek Chauvin and the others will get a comparatively fair trial. And will survive the verdict.
Why should I care about them? Or the folks who have been torching other people’s property?
Murder is a bad idea. Private property matters — to an extent. But folks who murder, or commit other crimes, still matter. We’re all neighbors; no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Catechism, 357, 361, 369–370, 1700, 1730, 2268–2269, 1929, 2273–2274, 2276–2279, 2402–2408)
I’ve said that before. (March 19, 2018)
Maybe this idea is divisive by today’s standards, but I think human lives matter. All human lives. Not just folks who look a bit like me. Or don’t look like me.
I think Mr. Floyd’s life mattered. Whether or not the bill he had was counterfeit.
I think his killer’s life matters. Whatever crime he is charged with.
I think the lives of arsonists, looters and journalists matter.
For that matter, I think my life matters.
Because we’re all human.
Remembering that won’t unkill Mr. Floyd, or unburn gutted businesses. But it might help us deal with a massive backlog of unresolved issues. And that, I think, is worth trying.
- “Death Came to Dayton”
(August 6, 2019)
- “Patriot Dreams”
(July 4, 2019)
- “A High Standard”
(March 18, 2019)
- “Murders, Life and Death”
(March 19, 2018)
- “Murder — Again — Still”
(November 6, 2017)
- “George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life”
BBC News (May 30, 2020)
- “George Floyd, the man whose death sparked US unrest”
BBC News (May 30, 2020)
- “Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Barack Obama and More Demand Justice After George Floyd’s Death”
Nicholas Hautman, Us Magazine (May 31, 2020)
- “Billie Eilish, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and More Celebrities Respond to George Floyd’s Death”
De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue (May 31, 2020)
- “Mayor Walks Back Statement Saying Every Person Arrested In Minneapolis Protests Was From Out Of State”
Sergei Klebnikov, Rachel Sandler; Forbes (May 30, 2020)
- “Derek Chauvin’s wife requests to change her last name in divorce filing”
Scottie Andrew, CNN (June 2, 2020)
- My take
- “George Floyd protests: Misleading footage and conspiracy theories spread online”
Reality Check, BBC News (June 1, 2020)
- “Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building on fire; city asks those in area to move away due to potential gas leak”
KSTP (May 28, 2020; updated May 29, 2020)
- 2019 Minnesota Statutes
Office of the Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota