Thursday, May 28, 2020

No More George Floyds

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, an African American, “has 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline from the department including official letters of reprimand.” [1] Another officer involved, Tou Thao, “was sued, along with another officer in 2017 for excessive use of force, a case whose final terms were sealed as terms of the settlement.”

According to the lawsuit against Thao, one Lamar “Ferguson and a woman who was eight months pregnant were walking home when Thao and” the other officer, Robert “Thunder stopped and searched them without cause. The officers handcuffed Ferguson, and Thao threw him to the ground and began punching him, while Thunder kicked him, according to the allegations.” [2]

“In a Facebook video that emerged Tuesday, Mr. Floyd can be seen being pinned to the ground by…Chauvin, who has his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Other footage later emerged showing two other officers sitting on Mr. Floyd’s body. Mr. Floyd is heard pleading that he can’t breathe, and eventually loses consciousness. A fire department crew called to assist found paramedics working inside an ambulance on ‘an unresponsive, pulseless male,’ a fire department report said. Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead later that evening.”

Meanwhile, “Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the official responsible for bringing charges, said that by itself, the video—which has circulated on social media—won’t necessarily be enough evidence on which to base a criminal case.” The U.S. “Justice Department said it has made the investigation a priority, assigning experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the case to probe whether the officers willfully violated Mr. Floyd’s civil rights,” but bringing “federal civil-rights charges against police is a challenge, as prosecutors must reach a difficult standard of proof that requires them to establish that an officer not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated someone’s constitutional rights.”

Three things come to mind. The first is, why were Chauvin and Thao still police officers? Police officers, for the sake of civic peace, need to be blameless when it comes to their conduct. It may be a high standard, but they are allowed to carry firearms in public, and are given special dispensation for the application of force. Chauvin was disciplined twice. Thao had already used excessive force. It makes no sense that people who can’t manage to conduct themselves properly should be permitted to wear a badge and carry a gun.

The second is this: why do we place the question of whether felonious charges will be brought on the state level in the hands of one official? At common law, which we inherited from England, the issue was put before a grand jury. And it wasn’t the sort of grand jury we see today, which are basically rubber stamps for whatever the prosecutor wants. A grand jury had actual investigative power, and they weren’t limited to looking into whatever some government official chose to put before them. Anyone could bring a case before the grand jury. We need to bring those grand juries back in every state, and prosecutors should be required to go forward with any indictments they issue. This will be especially useful where prosecutors feel uncomfortable because of perceived institutional connections with the accused.

And while we’re at it, why do we need professional prosecutors at all? Just appoint attorneys to serve as prosecutors for each case, like many localities do for public defenders. Serving as only a prosecutor or a defense attorney has a tendency to unbalance one’s perspective anyway, and this would be a remedy for that particular psychological issue.

The third thing that comes to mind is that, at long last, prospective police officers need to be checked for racism before they get a badge. Racism is stupid, and the last thing we need is stupid people walking around with handguns and other weaponry.

Legislators take note.