- About Eric
- Book Reviews
- Country Profile
- MDBG Dictionary
- Modern China
- Contact Eric
- BBN Radio
Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
It's an important question to ask, because this case has caused a lot of confusion about the role of police, with some wondering if they are even necessary. And in this picture, we see a use of force that I think we can all agree is not acceptable (given the length of the video), but that does not mean that force is never acceptable. So what kind of force is acceptable, and why do we single out this cop as having used force that goes too far? This was brought to my attention several days ago when I saw a short video on Twitter that a guy filmed with his cell phone camera. It showed a cop struggling with a demonstrator and forcing her arms behind her back. The guy taking the video with his phone was yelling at the cop to get off her. I thought, What an idiot! The woman was resisting arrest, and the cop was trying to get the cuffs on her. That's his job. That's what we pay him to do.
But after thinking about it, I realized that maybe the guy doing the filming did not know the difference. Maybe he really did not comprehend the line Derek Chauvin crossed, and why it is perfectly acceptable and even necessary for a cop to wrestle someone to the ground to accomplish the task at hand. There is a level of force the police are allowed to use, that they sometimes have to use. But there is a line they're not supposed to cross.
This essay will not generate very much debate, because what I'm going to share with you is pretty straightforward and obvious. I know that this case has inflamed the passions of a nation, because of the image a cop putting his knee on someone's neck until he is dead. But what I want to explain to you is that what Derek Chauvin did would have been violation of George Floyd's civil rights even if he hadn't died—even if he had not been hurt that badly. And don't say, "Of course! He was on top of him!" So? Police have to wrestle bad guys to the ground and get on top of them to restrain them all the time. That's part of their job. That's not a violation of civil rights
But in the case of Derek Chauvin it was. Why?
So we need to take this apart. The details seem complicated, but the rule is really simple: The police are allowed to use as much force as is needed to restrain the suspect. Period.
Why is this true? Because one of your rights in a civil society is the right not to be punished by the police. In a civil society, you don't get punished unless and until you are convicted by a jury of your peers in a court of law. So that is the principle that underlies this whole issue: In a civil society, the police are not allowed to punish. The landmark case that addresses this issue is the Rodney King beating in 1991 in Los Angeles. If you have not studied this case, you need to, because it will almost certainly be referenced in the trial of Derek Chauvin.
Four officers were tried in state court, with three of them acquitted and the jurors unable to reach a verdict on the fourth. But they were all tried again in Federal Court on civil rights charges, and two of them went to prison. I remember vaguely the judge in one of the courts—can't remember now if it was the state court or the federal court—telling them that they were not wrong to beat Rodney King, but they were wrong to beat him more than was necessary to restrain him. This is a very important principle in American law, and in any civil society. America is not a police state. The police are not allowed to punish. Not so with China. China is a police state, and the police do have the prerogative to "teach 'em a lesson." I have seen it done. A lady was selling stuff to eat by the side of the road. Apparently she did not have the proper license. The cop did not issue her a citation and tell her to appear in court. He threw her stand over.
I do not mean by this that in a police state like China, all police are monsters. Not at all. I have encountered many very nice police men (and women). Many years ago, when I was summering up on the Tibetan plateau, I was in a little restaurant in the evening. A lady came and sat down at my table. She said, "I am a police woman."
I took her hand and said, "God bless you. Thank-you for keeping me safe." She was rather flustered and soon returned to her table. A few minutes later, she brought me her soup.
So when I talk about China being a police state I totally do not mean that all cops are tyrants. What I mean is that if for some reason the police in a given place have it in for you, or more importantly, if a party boss somewhere has ordered the police to move you out or give you some measure of grief, you cannot appeal to law, because the power of the party (and the police under them) supersedes law.
But in America, the police are not supposed to be the punishers. They are only supposed to be the apprehenders. Because people do not understand this distinction, we now have people berating the police for just doing their jobs, as if they are not supposed to use any force. That's ridiculous.
I said all that because of one fact that has gotten scant mention in the media: By the time Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, Floyd was ALREADY HANDCUFFED! Now I'm pretty open minded about tactics police use if the suspect is resisting arrest and has not yet been cuffed. But once you have handcuffs on the guy, what possible reason do you have for putting your knee on his neck? How can that not be punishment? That's a federal civil rights violation.
So the guy I saw in that other instance who was taking a video with his cell phone and yelling at the cop to get off her was clueless. She was resisting arrest and he had not gotten the handcuffs on her yet. But in the case of George Floyd, as I understand it, he allowed them to put handcuffs on him.
But then the problem started. He refused to get into the car. He assured them that he was not resisting arrest, but that he had claustrophobia. It is possible and even likely that his discomfort was related to the effects of the drug he was on. Anyway, one of the officers was struggling with him for at least a minute on the left side of the car, trying to get him into the car. What happened next is very important, because it is what led to his death. Derek Chauvin reached over through the back seat from the right side of the car, pulled Floyd through the car and out the right side door. Floyd fell to the ground.
Why did Derek Chauvin do that? Why did he actually pull Floyd out of the car? I believe that he wanted to "teach Floyd a lesson," and that is where Chauvin crossed the line. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems clear to me that Derek Chauvin had decided to punish George Floyd for not getting into the car. He kept his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes or so, and all of what I just relayed happened after George Floyd was handcuffed. Remember the rule.
So how do we respond to this. On the left, you have people saying, "Defund the police!" Some of the more moderate ones are trying to walk it back and say that it doesn't really mean that. Yes it does. If you don't really want to see the police defunded, find a way to express yourself that doesn't require you to eat your words every time you say it. Sorry. I'm an English teacher. Words have meanings. Don't say them if you don't mean them.
On the right, I sometimes see a video on Twitter depicting violence in the streets, with a caption that says something like, "Why don't you call a social worker?"
Here's the irony: In the case of George Floyd, a social worker was really what he needed. Maybe not a social worker, but some sort of specially trained police counselor. I've been thinking about this...see if you don't agree with me. If there had been someone there who could talk to George Floyd kindly and assure him that he would be alright, don't you think there is a pretty good chance he could have been persuaded to get into the car? Consider these facts, which are not disputed:
- He was not violent. He did not attack the police.
- I guess there was a brief struggle, but he basically allowed the police to put the handcuffs on him.
- He was on drugs and not feeling well.
- He complained about breathing difficulty even before Floyd was on top of him.
- He was probably having panic attacks. He seemed genuinely afraid to get in the car.
Whatever the case may be, there are lessons to be learned from this. A change is needed. Maybe it would involve having additional trained personnel who would be able to deal with the issues around Floyd's drug use. Or maybe it would involve giving that kind of training to the officers themselves.
But we also need to do a lot more to teach young people about these things—I mean not only such issues as civil rights, but also the importance of the police and the important work they do. How did we ever get to the place where even ordinary citizens are calling for the defunding of the police? The Bible says that they are God's servants for our good (Romans 13:4)
I suppose we could use radar and computers. But the loss of humanity would be hard to bear. Maybe at intersections radar can replace police. But radar can easily be misused. Often it is contracted out to private companies who place the radar in such a way that they catch people who have just been made aware of a speed change and are in the process of slowing down when they are caught. A human officer knows this and can take it into account.
During the years I was on the road, I remember a livestock hauler talking one time about getting pulled over. In the trucking industry at that time, typically bull haulers would be paid a different rate per mile depending on whether they were loaded or empty. Not surprisingly, they tended to drive faster when they were empty. Anyway, it was the middle of the night and this guy was flying through Kansas I think it was, wanting to get to this next load as soon as possible. I don't remember if he said he had his bird dog on, but for some reason he got pulled over.
The officer comes up to his window and says, "Can I see your pilot's license since you're flying so low?" As it turned out, this guy had a private pilot's license, and he had just gotten his physical so his medical—everything was up to date. So he pulls out his pilot's license and hands it to the officer. The officer was flabbergasted and speechless. Now, the driver in question freely admitted that he had really been flying through there. But he was, after all, duly licensed to fly. So the officer says, "We're doing 65 down here on earth, you think you can handle that? He gave the driver back his license and let him go.
I said, "I bet you slowed down."
He said, "I crawled through that state."
Another time I had a load going into Canada. I stopped at a truck stop near the Canadian border and I met a young lady who just seemed to be hanging out and not doing much. Turns out she was also a bull hauler. She told me that she had to wait for another driver from her company because she couldn't get into Canada. I said, "Why couldn't you get into Canada?"
"They kept you out of Canada for a speeding ticket? How fast were you going?"
"Hundred and ten."
I was incredulous. "You were doing a hundred and ten miles an hour?? What were you running?"
Listen to me: A truck driver's daughter barreling down the highway in a big rig with the pedal to the metal doing a hundred and ten miles an hour is a threat to public safety. We do need cops, you guys. We can make changes. Better training. In some cases, more personnel. Maybe even volunteers who ride with cops and help people like George Floyd who do need to be arrested because they are not safe, but who also need help. These kinds of things can be talked about. There are lines that must not be crossed, and we need to understand what they are. But the police have a very difficult job to do—they need our support and they deserve our respect.