The Murder of George Floyd and the Lawlessness of Law Enforcement
While it is surprising that the murderer of George Floyd was criminally charged within days of having committed the murder, that is only because of the accustomed corruption and inequities of our country’s criminal justice system. That George Floyd’s murderer was fired and charged, and that the other officers complicit in the murder were fired, is positive, and a sign of “progress,” only in the context of this deeply flawed and historically routinely criminal, and hypocritical, law enforcement system. It’s a start, but just that.
George Floyd’s murderer deserves to be charged and prosecuted for first degree murder. Third degree murder means that one person’s actions against another person unwilfully caused that person’s death. It requires that there be an element of accident and chance in the death. For example, if you were in a fight with someone, and you punched them so hard that you accidentally cracked their skull, which punctured their brain and killed them, you could be charged with third degree murder. The same for if you shoved a person, they tripped, and their neck snapped on the backrest of a bar stool and they died. As for manslaughter, that charge requires that your actions be done with no malice or premeditation. The requirement to prove that the offense was unintended and completely accidental is stronger here. Essentially, you have to prove someone caused another person’s death by stupidity, ignorance, and/or recklessness, and that there was a strong component of chance involved. If you fired a gun in celebration, like a jackass, and the bullet ended up striking some bystander dead, or if you accidentally drove over a pedestrian, you could be charged with manslaughter. Both charges, third degree murder and manslaughter, require that you not have intended to kill a person, that you didn’t know your actions would mean their death.
George Floyd’s murderer knew what he was doing. To presume otherwise would be to presume that he is a complete moron, wholly ignorant of the way the human body works, its requirements to continue living, as if he were an infant or an alien, who understands nothing and for whom everything is new. If you kneel on a person, pressing your knee and the weight of your body on their neck, they cannot breathe. If you prolong this violent act, they will die. The cop that murdered George Floyd strangled him in this manner for nearly nine minutes. He continued doing it for nearly three minutes after George Floyd became unresponsive. If he’d choked George Floyd to death with his hands, could he claim surprise when George Floyd died? What if he’d taped a plastic bag over his head? What if he chained him to a cinder block and threw him in a lake? He knew what he was doing. He could have stopped at any time. George Floyd, and bystanders, begged him to stop. He tortured a man until that man was dead beneath him.
The notion of premeditation in a perpetrator’s mind being needed to charge a person with first degree murder does not require that one prove that the murderer planned their murder, in the sense that it was some long thought out thing they’d been preparing to act on. If you commit violence against another person, knowing that it can kill them, and then it does, that’s first degree murder. If you shoot someone and they die, whether presently or hours or days after inflicting the wound, you have commited first degree murder. Maybe you didn’t really mean to kill them. You just got mad, pointed your gun, shot, they died. The fact that you’re expected by the criminal justice system to know what a gun does when you squeeze its trigger, and what happens when a bullet enters another person’s body, satisfies the criteria for premeditation. You know a person can die if you shoot them in the chest; you are guilty of first degree murder.
Incidentally, anyone with you at the time, anyone who can be said to be complicit in the murder, either because they actively aided you or simply knew what you were doing and went along with it, they are guilty of second degree murder. If you and your friends decide to rob a bar, and one of your friends happens to kill a bartender, you are an accomplice to that crime. It doesn’t matter that you’re not the one who actually killed the bartender. Doesn’t matter if you had no weapon, did nothing but stand by. You collaborated with a murderer. Your friend will be charged with first degree murder, and you and your other friends will be charged with second degree murder.
At least, that’s the law for civilians. Police officers operate by a different standard. Cops are treated with kid gloves when it comes to disciplining them for criminal actions, particularly those done on the job. They’re judged as though they had no idea what they did was wrong, though professionally they should know better than anyone. Police avoid punishment or are given wrist-slap sentences for crimes that would earn civilians the harshest sentences. The bullshit platitudes about what a hard job it is to be a cop, how stressful it is, how they have to make hard decisions that civilians can’t understand or relate to is just that, complete bullshit. Not saying the job isn’t any of those things, but if it’s too much for you, you shouldn’t be doing it. Billions of people have had stressful and difficult lives and jobs and have managed to get through them without murdering people.
Police officers should be given no dispensation when they commit a criminal act. If anything, the opposite would be just. The police should be held to a higher standard and more strictly disciplined than civilians. As enforcers of the law, they should be experts in it. They should be the most law-abiding people alive for them to be allowed their continued existence as a profession and, on what should be astoundingly rare and shocking instances when they violate the law, they must be prosecuted more severely than would be any civilian.
Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.
"Ignorance of law excuses no one."
That is a principle which we are all subject to in this country. All of us, except the police. We cannot claim ignorance or accident to escape prosecution, but they can, and do. Ignorance of how the human body functions, how the respiratory system works, and what actions will cause it to stop, thus killing a person, is no more excusable. However senseless and stupid was the officer who murdered George Floyd, it cannot be argued in good faith that he didn’t know what he was doing. Whatever he might claim his intentions were, he had to have known that what he was doing would, at the very least would likely, result in George Floyd’s death. He is guilty of first degree murder and must be charged for it. The other officers that stood around and abetted the murder are guilty of second degree murder and must be charged for it.
George Floyd did not deserve to die. He deserves justice. But this isn’t just about him. The protests of recent days are about far more than the murder of a single person. Rather, his murder was one too many. Too many Black people, mostly men but women and children as well, have been murdered by the police. The racist violence of police has been condoned and excused and ignored for too long. Protest is the natural result. People, mostly crackers, can fret and pontificate over how these protests develop, whether they are justified when they escalate into violence, into looting or rioting, but they’re overlooking or wilfully ignoring the obvious. Action elicits reaction. Violence begets violence. It must be clarified that the majority of protests have been peaceful, on the part of the protesters, and that much of the violence that has erupted has been instigated by the police or by outside agitators with right-wing white-supremacist ties. But frankly, with the way this country has always treated Black people and the way police continue treating them on a daily basis, protests and rebellions are rational, and violence to be expected.
Prosecuting the offending officers in the George Floyd murder case with the harshness their crimes warrant is both unlikely and desperately necessary. It would also be only the start of a long process of reforming, if not abolishing, the systemically violent, racist, and often fascistic nature of US law enforcement.
Black Lives Matter.