(this was written before the Chauvin verdict, which was a conviction)
It’s logical that the victim of a hideous crime would be present in the trial of the murderer. There’s no other way. But rarely does the victim loom so large and powerful over a trial as is the case with the ongoing murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the cop who killed George Floyd.
He’s there all the time. This trial, perhaps more than any major public trial in history, relies on video and there’s a lot of it. We have developed a popular technology capable of tracking and recording our lives and most young people in this country have it.
George Floyd is the star of all that video: dancing, joking and hugging people in the store where he allegedly passed that counterfeit bill; talking to cops; resisting being cuffed and put in the police car; and then dying screaming his innocence, confusion, love for his mother (or wife) and his inability to breathe. Then he is on the tape saying nothing…because he’s dead laying like a giant cushion under the knee of a defiant and scary-looking Derek Chauvin.
He’s also present medically because this prosecution has called to the stand a long line of medical experts who followed a seemingly endless stream of police and law enforcement experts testifying about what Chauvin did to him and whether that was legal and, with the doctors, whether it was what killed him.
So stunning was this parade of witnesses that some commentators have marveled at the seeming break with tradition: as Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy’s cop character in Beverly Hills Cop) puts it, “Cops don’t rat on other cops.” Under the bus has gone Dereck and it’s not entirely clear why. But it’s clear this is something new.
The people who run this country can’t let things go on the way they have. Cops have been beating and abusing us for my entire life and nobody in power has done much to stop it.
For decades, they denied it was going on. From the officials in government to the television commentators and reporters (most of whom were white men), they simply questioned whether people ever did things like that. Or, more frequently, they blamed it on us — “You must have been doing something wrong. Otherwise, why would they play any attention to you.” There were no trials. There were no inquiries. There was no justice.
That knee-jerk naysaying had to stop with the popularization of video which had its mass-media debut in the Rodney King beating trial. There, before the eyes of the world, was a savage (and all too typical) police beating: the kind we used to call “no badge beatings” where the cops would take you to the park, remove his badge and beat you for several minutes. Here, the badges were on and a group of men stood around a brother on the ground beating him.
The popular reaction from the pundits. Wow! It seems like this stuff actually happens!
From us. Told you so!
From many white people. Something is missing. What I’m seeing can’t be the whole story because white people are good and black people, like the victim, are bad.
That’s the basis for the new defense that arose. While the police would insist that nothing happened before there was video, they now confronted the video of their abuse with the insistence: you’re not seeing what really happened. In the King case, the victim was intoxicated and combative and could only be restrained with enormous force which was completely in line with the political manual and training program. If you expect them to protect you from black monsters like Rodney King, you have to let them do it.
It worked. The cops went free. A line of defense was established and continues to be used. Until now.
We are living in an age of forced transparency. The racist punks who used their badges to beat up on us can no longer lie about what happened without being challenged by evidence. This is one aspect of the enormous contribution information technology has made to our lives; without it, our movements against racism (and there have been many) would be unavailing. Today, they have changed a political culture.
This doesn’t mean they’ll all be convicted because, for the most part, they aren’t. Almost all cops charged with or brought to trial for abusing people get off with no or virtually non-existent penalty. It’s truly amazing when I talk to cops and they whine about how “I’m risking my life to protect people and look what I have to face!” My response would b that you’re supposed to protect people and killing them isn’t part of that protection but, to be honest, I very seldom say that because I don’t want them to arrest or hurt me.
In short, that’s right…I’m 72 years old and I’m afraid because about a year ago a cop pointed a gun at me while I was walking a block from my home — case of mistaken identity. Six months ago, another freckle-faced nut-job with a badge threatened to arrest me because I wasn’t walking away from a store window fast enough — they were in the store arresting somebody or something.
And it happens all the time.
…because I’m not white and they are.
…and they have a gun and I don’t.
…and because they can get away with it and, at this point, I can’t do much about it.
because, finally, there have not yet been enough convictions of people like Derek Chauvin.