Minneapolis cop lights an 8:46 fuse, massive explosion follows
In just eight minutes and forty-six seconds in the early evening of May 25th, what should have been a routine arrest, instead turned into a moment that ripped the scab off a long festering national wound; the treatment of African American and Latinos at the hands of police.
As George Floyd lay face down and handcuffed on a Minneapolis street, Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee and full body weight on Floyd’s neck. For more than six minutes, the handcuffed Floyd pleaded with the officer that he couldn’t breathe. Then his words and pulse went silent. Nearly three minutes later, Chauvin, now charged in Floyd’s death, finally removed his knee. It was all captured on cell phone video.
The unnecessary end of a life ignited an anger that sparked an ugly and violent national chain reaction stamped with a singular message: ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Nearly every major city woke up to, in some places, unrecognizable moonscape-like communities.
As cities tally damages, protestors, police, and public officials will try and figure out how to lower the temperature. It won’t be easy as everyone deals with a pandemic, epic unemployment, a palpable anger and months of hot summer nights all ahead.
None of the ingredients tossed into the pot for this latest serving of national anger is new. But if we are to stop making the same rancid dish, said former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, something has to change. “We need to explain to the community what we’re doing,” he said. Apply the rules the same for everyone. Public officials need to be “as transparent as possible.”
The former DA, now practicing law in Denver, oversaw investigations in more than twenty police related shootings. It’s not always cut and dry, said Garnett. “You want to process as much information as possible.” You also have to ask, “Are we training our officers correctly on issues of subconscious racial factors, use of force?”
Addressing the problem, he said, goes beyond the police. It extends to offices like the one he once ran. “Every DA has to understand that racism is endemic.” Garnett said training was a fundamental tool “to make my deputies aware of unconscious racial factors in making decisions.”
Could Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death have been handled differently? Without a doubt, said former police chief, Kyle Westall. “On the video it doesn’t look proper, not like any technique I’ve ever seen,” said the retired Farmington, New Mexico Police Chief. “It’s also important to know the entire background,” said Westall. Was Chauvin trained properly? Was the knee on the neck official procedure? Without full knowledge, he said, the investigation will be incomplete.
Floyd’s death has certainly put police in an unwanted light, said the retired top cop. “Police officers are human like everyone else,” said Westall. “But ultimately they need to maintain their professional conduct while they’re on duty.” Most cops “are doing it right, respectfully and responsibly.”
But in calling for calm there was not uniformity among all top cops. Houston’s Art Acevedo wrote in the Washington Post, “We condemn the actions of the police officers involved.” Three of Chauvin’s colleagues present at the arrest were also fired. Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy was more succinct in a Facebook posting addressed to the public at large and his officers. “If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this (Floyd’s death) ...turn it in.”
Circumspection was not on President Trump’s mind as he spoke about Minneapolis and the national turmoil it inspired. On the first night of confrontation, Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Minnesota’s Governor assuring him that “the military is with him all the way,” adding, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The line was first spoken in the sixties and dawning of the country’s civil rights movement by a Miami Police chief known for overlooking police brutality especially in the black and Latino communities. Trump later defended the tweet as “misunderstood,” and that he only meant that looting could lead to violence and that he was not endorsing gunfire. He denied any knowledge of its origin.
While Trump has called the Floyd family to express his condolence, he has also fanned emotions calling demonstrators “thugs,” inspired by “antifa and other radical left-wing groups.” Antifa is an anti-fascist group that has often been linked to violence.
As the emotions ran high, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered a dusk to dawn curfew on demonstrators. His edict did not work as hoped. Crowds continued to fill streets around the state capitol and center city on consecutive nights. Buildings were damaged, including the State Capital and Supreme Court which were stained with graffiti. Police made scores of arrests and countless injuries were recorded, some as a result of police firing rubber bullets and paint balls. But cops also suffered casualties, including three officers injured when they were rammed with a vehicle.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, who led a team from her office in a Sunday morning clean-up of the city, issued a measured statement both supportive of the sadness and anger over Floyd’s death and frustration of the violence.
“I share in the outrage and grief flowing through our beloved city over the killing of George Floyd,” calling the video of his treatment “incredibly painful to watch and yet so necessary to see.” It, she said, “has filled many of us with anger and outrage, as does every tragic incident of racial violence.”
Calls to the Denver Police for comment were not returned.