George Floyd’s Murder And Amy Cooper’s Call Are The Same Story
Not even a full day after Amy Cooper went viral for calling the police to falsely claim Christian Cooper (no relation), an African American man and avid birder, was threatening her in Central Park, horrifying video emerged of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck as two fellow officers kneeled on his body, and one looked on.
Floyd, who was handcuffed and not resisting, said he couldn’t breathe, but like the officers with Eric Garner before him, Chauvin did not relent, and not one of the other three officers–Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng–intervened.
Later reporting revealed that Floyd and Chauvin both worked security at the same club. It is unclear whether they knew one another.
While all four officers were fired, and Mayor Jacob Frey had called for the prosecution of Chauvin, little seemed to have changed as protesters were met with pepper spray, billy clubs and rubber bullets. A sharp, sharp contrast to the wide leeway given heavily armed “protesters” in Michigan who stormed the state-house, illustrated side by side in this tweet from Franchesca Ramsey.
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) May 27, 2020
Fires erupted, though the origins are unclear, given that tear gas canisters can ignite them, as explained in this thread from Dr. Jason Johnson, professor in the School of Global Journalism And Communication at Morgan State University. Video circulating online shows a white man carrying an umbrella and smashing windows; that man was alleged to have been a St. Paul police officer identified by his ex-wife. From its Twitter account, St.Paul Police department called that charge a “false rumor.”
Meanwhile the official White House twitter account, in a tweet labeled as violating the terms of service yet remaining on the site, said: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” [Emphasis mine.]
The tweet originally appeared on Trump’s own Twitter account, but was flagged by Twitter. Trump previously encouraged law enforcement officers to use violence during arrests. After a Friday night of massive protests outside the White House, Trump appeared to incite more violence, asking on Twitter if Saturday night was “MAGA night at the White House.”
Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman initially declined to press charges against the officers videoed killing Floyd, claiming “there is other evidence that doesn’t support a criminal charge.” He later equivocated, saying the phrase was taken out of context. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he expected charges soon; Derek Chauvin was arrested on Friday, May 29, charged with 3rd-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin’s wife, Kellie Chauvin released a statement later on Friday expressing sympathy for Floyd’s family and announcing her plans to divorce Derek.
In Minneapolis, a group of Mennonites, an insular group often confused with the Amish, quietly demanded justice for Floyd. Across the nation, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, people turned out to protest George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police. In Louisville, people protested in memory of Breonna Taylor, shot by plain-clothes police in her own home when they served a no-knock warrant for someone who was already in custody. Her boyfriend, believing it was a home invasion, stood his ground and fired at police; he was arrested.but the charges dropped. The Louisville Chief of Police retired.
The contrast in policing of the reopen “protesters” and citizens protesting the brutal death of George Floyd is difficult to deny in the age of universal cameras, as this Twitter moment comparing them illustrates.
When unarmed protesters marched in Minneapolis, police attacked them with tear gas and rubber bullets.
A month ago, armed protesters marched in Michigan … police did nothing. pic.twitter.com/P01kiWr6hd
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 28, 2020
When police choose to escalate is the core of brutality, and their word for the need is given much weight. Take this instance of an officer assaulting a protester with a bike in Atlanta, recorded by Brittany Miller. A bystander intervened, taking the bike from him. Both women, without the video, likely would have been arrested for assaulting an officer, though the officer instigated the violence.
On Saturday, Mayor Frey, Minnesota Governor Tim Walls, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and state AG Ellison all say, according to Joy Reid of MSNBC: “…outside forces, domestic and possibly foreign, have post-Tuesday infiltrated the state, and are in organized fashion setting fire to historic businesses in communities of color, and causing mayhem. Ellison cited the widely circulating video of a white man in a gas mask holding an umbrella who was caught by protestors on video breaking windows.”
Reid reports white supremacists are encouraging their members to loot and “cause mayhem.” Additional video shows a group of young white people smashing windows as black activists entreat them to stop.
Christian Cooper to George Floyd is a distance traveled through mere chance. Had a New York City Chauvin arrived in response to Amy Cooper’s call, we would be mourning Christian’s death and not enjoying his enthusiasm for birds. The Amy Coopers escalate to Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan, who decided to skip the police completely when they “allegedly” modern-day lynched Ahmaud Arbery.
Amy Cooper understood the game of police roulette she was playing. She made it clear when she said she would tell police an “African American” man was threatening her. She made it clear when she repeated “African American man” to the 911 dispatcher, her voice growing more hysterical as she feigned being attacked.
She leveraged a notoriously, blatantly, and dangerously biased institution, betting they would inflict upon Christian the harm she decided he deserved for asking her to leash her dog in a protected area. This time, she lost.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Before Karen There Was Becky
Amy is not the first white person to try to mobilize police as a personal vendetta squad. Jennifer Schulte, dubbed “BBQ Becky” called police because African American picnickers were using charcoal in grills; Permit Patty, Alison Ettel, called police on an 8-year-old girl selling water without a permit. Stephanie Sebby-Strempel, given the nickname “Pool Patrol Paula,” struck a 15-year-old African-American teen she thought should not be using a pool, calling him a racist epithet. She resisted arrest, biting an officer, and pushing another, and yet she lived to tell the tale.
The list goes on and on.
On May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis, the day after police killed George Floyd, venture capitalist Tom Austin threatened to call the police to report young African American entrepreneurs using the private gym in their office building, filming them as they filmed him. He questioned whether they belonged there, despite entry requiring keycards. He subsequently lost his lease in the building, and offered the perennial “I messed up,” and denial of racism while simultaneously claiming the men became “aggressive.”
These racist people doing citizen policing are not mentally ill, as they’re often described, they are not “scared,” and they are not experiencing emotional problems. They are reinforcing a silent power structure, serving as arbiters of “belonging” and not “belonging,” of people being in their place and people daring to stray out of it.
Not only can they rely on police to leave them relatively free of consequence, they call on authorities not to enforce the law, but to enforce these unspoken rules. The rules? White supremacy.
No Justification For Brutality
Images of dangerous white people threatening or assaulting officers abound. Here a man holding a knife and hatchet waves them at an officer as though to use them; he is not killed.
At the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Richard Wilson Preston, an Imperial Wizard of a Maryland Ku Klux Klan chapter, fired a gun at counter-protesters, calling one a racial epithet, as police officers benignly looked on. He was not killed. He was not even arrested until later that month. The Virginia State Police claimed the nearby officers did not see the man brandishing the weapon, hear the shot or witness the incident, which was filmed by the local chapter of the ACLU. Preston was sentenced to four years.
Patrick Crusius shot and killed 23 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in an act of domestic terrorism aimed at immigrants, writing about the white supremacist Great Replacement conspiracy theory prior to the attack. Fredrick Hopkins shot seven officers, killing one and injuring 11 in an ambush in 2018 when they attempted to interview his son about a sexual assault. Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine people worshipping in a black church in Charleston. Scott Michael Greene, a Trump supporter, shot and killed two police officers in Des Moines, Iowa in 2016. James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
All were arrested alive.
George Floyd was handcuffed, subdued and was not resisting, and he is now dead. As per MappingPoliceViolence.org, there is no connection between increased violent crime and police killings.
Minneapolis Police And White Supremacy
Derek Chauvin, the fired officer who killed George Floyd, over 19 years amassed at least 18 complaints, receiving two letters of reprimand and an oral reprimand. He was involved in three shootings, one fatal. Ira Toles, who survived, says Chauvin hit him before shooting him in the stomach. Tou Thao has had six complaints and the city settled an excessive force lawsuit against him.
George Floyd isn’t the first African American man to die in Minneapolis with a police officer kneeling on him; in 2010 David Smith was killed in an eerily similar fashion. From 2010 to the present, Floyd is the 11th person to die at the hands of Minneapolis police, as far as we know. The police killings of Smith, Travis Jordan, Terrance Franklin, and Thurman Blevins, all African American men, all sparked controversy.
Minneapolis’s powerful police union is cited as one of the biggest obstacles to major reform. The current Minneapolis Police Union president, Lt. Bob Kroll was suspended after a 2007 racial discrimination suit brought by five black officers, and, over 26 years, had 19 internal affairs investigations. He has ties to motorcycle “club” City Heat. According to hate watchgroup the Anti-Defamation League:
“Even the City Heat Motorcycle Club, an off-duty police motorcycle club with chapters in Chicago and Minneapolis, has members who have openly displayed white supremacist symbols. Photographs of City Heat members taken by other club members and posted to the Internet have shown that some members of the club display a number of symbols on their clothing that have white supremacist or hateful connotations. One member sports a patch that asks “Are you here for the hanging?”—a reference to lynching. The lynching theme is corroborated by a small chain noose the individual wears next to the patch. Another City Heat member displays the most common Ku Klux Klan symbol, the so-called “Blood Drop Cross.” Several members wear “Proud to be White” patches, an item typically worn by white supremacists.
“Other white supremacist symbols sometimes seen on the clothing and gear of various biker gang members include references to the “14 words” slogan (a popular white supremacist pledge: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”), “white pride” patches, “white fist” images, Klan references, “WPWW” (for “white pride world wide”), and a specific round variant of the Celtic Cross that has become one of the most popular white supremacist symbols.”
He defended officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze when they shot and killed unarmed 24-year-old Jamar Clark in November, 2015, claiming that Clark reached for an officer’s gun. Witnesses say Clark, like Floyd, was handcuffed. Kroll and the officers said he was not, and the district attorney cleared them. They were not charged or disciplined. According to CNN, “Clark was shot about 61 seconds after the officers first confronted him.”
Kroll deemed Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” in the subsequent protests, and made and sold red “Cops for Trump” t-shirts for a Trump rally. Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak named Kross specifically as the problem in the city in an interview with News Talk 830 WCCO “We’ve never had a person leading the federation who is as bombastic, who is as overtly racist. Who is as likely to provide comfort to someone when they do something wrong.”
Change can, however, can come from outside, even as Minnesota Police guard Chauvin’s house. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for the criminal prosecution of Chauvin, and Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins beseeched her colleagues to class racism as a public health emergency. University of Minnesota’s undergraduate student body president, Jael Kerandi, demanded the university cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Department, and it did, ending contracts with the department for security services.
Police Brutality Nationwide
Police forces in the United States began as slave patrols, and the institution never lost its sordid history. In 2019, police killed 1099 people; of those people, 24% were African American, nearly double the population rate of 13%. Black people are two-and-a-half to three times more likely than white people to die at the hands of police.
Reno’s police department kills black men at nearly two and a half times the murder rate, while Oklahoma City, Santa Ana, Anaheim, St. Louis City, Scottsdale, Hialeah and Madison police departments’ officer killings of black man exceed the murder rate. For the period of 2013-2019, 99% of police killings were unpunished, with the vast majority not even seeing criminal charges. Mapping Police Violence offers a tool that shows you the number of people killed in that span by police departments, and allows sorting by race.
Police killing is the sixth leading cause of death for all young men, though that number may be low, as data collection is poor, relying heavily on self-reporting. A study found the lifetime odds of black man or boy being killed by police are roughly 1 in 1000, precisely 96 per 100,000. For white men and boys, that number is 39 per 100,000. White people make up 61.3% of the US population.
Women, in general, have a far lower risk of being killed by police, but black women are killed by police 1.4 times more frequently than white women.
On Long Island, people of color were arrested five times more often than white people. In San Diego, a study showed African Americans were ten times more likely than white people to be arrested for resisting arrest or other obstruction. In New York, black people are 84% more likely to get an additional resisting charge when arrested for misdemeanor drug possession. Most experts attribute this difference to aggressive policing and implicit bias, not more resistance by African Americans. While most violent crime occurs between people of the same race, the “white on white” crime rate is more than 5 times higher than the much-touted “black on black” crime rate.
Police Brutality Leads To Lynchings
Lynch: “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission.”–Webster’s Dictionary.
The word “lynch” might conjure up images of the past confined to black and white, or Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” but lynching persists in America. Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan (allegedly) lynched Ahmaud Arbery. No games of semantics can change those circumstances. While recording, they hunted him and killed him.
The idea that black lives are completely expendable is the end of the road from Amy Cooper, though George Floyd, to the power structure condoning its own spread beyond its confines. Until the social media outcry over the video showing Arbery’s death, released nearly two months after he was killed, prosecutors declined to charge the men, accepting their claim that they thought he was wanted for burglaries. Those prosecutors are now under investigation themselves.
Burglary is not a death-penalty eligible crime in the United States, and if were, it would require a charge or indictment, a trial and conviction. Not a hunch about a black man jogging. And yet the institutions structured to enforce those constitutional requirements condone their abject violation. That is no mistake, it is by design, all the way back to the slave patrols.
In North Carolina, Jordan Kita, an off-duty New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy, in uniform, along with an armed white mob, tried to force entry into the home of a black family, in pursuit of a “missing” white girl and someone named “Josiah” who did not live there. Law enforcement eventually arrived, some “realized” they had the wrong house and no arrests were made until five days later. Kita was fired and has been charged.
Otis Byrd, 54, of Mississippi was found hanging by a bedsheet from a tree in his yard in 2015, 15 feet above the ground, no chair or stool below. Police said it was not a homicide despite his family’s insistence he would not kill himself. In 2018, Willie Jones Jr, who had a child with a white woman, was hanged in a tree in her front yard. The two reportedly had an argument. Police said it was a suicide; a subsequent investigation was closed without charges. Phillip Carroll, 22, Nick Naylor, 23 and Raynard Johson, 17 were all found hanged in Mississipi, and each death was ruled a suicide.
Danye Jones, 24, son of Ferguson anti-police brutality activist Melissa McKinnies, died by hanging in their backyard, allegedly by a bedsheet, in 2018. Police ruled his death…a suicide.
The Road To Ending Police Brutality
Research and experts suggest the following steps to end the culture of police brutality, from Campaign Zero:
- End criminalization of minor offenses, known as “broken window” policing;
- Provide for community oversight;
- Limit force;
- Have independent investigations and prosecutions;
- Increase diversity among police officers;
- Require and utilize body cams;
- Increase training;
- Stop for-profit policing;
- Demilitarize the police;
- Ensure fair police union contracts.
While the government must initiate each of these steps, we have to prioritize electing local officials committed to all of them, and hold them accountable. Public pressure led to the arrest of Ahmaud Arbery’s alleged killers. Public pressure likely pushed Minnesota DA Mike Freeman to charge Derek Chauvin, though he initially declined to do so immediately.
Attention Cannot Flag
For some of us, George Floyd’s murder lifted the veil on police brutality, ending what might have been a slightly cultivated blissful ignorance, one that could not be maintained after seeing Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd like he was an object and not a person. Others are hoarse from the trying to tell us, from the decades of it.
Police brutality is an underlying drumbeat, a constant thrum heard endlessly, night and day, by our fellow citizens. To pretend not to hear it, even now, is a dehumanization of deadly proportions.
No one should have to live with the threat of death from anywhere and everywhere, and yet a person like Amy Cooper can leverage that threat as a form of revenge. Derek Chauvin can skate through complaint after complaint without consequence; those consequences might have saved George Floyd’s life.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan figured they could take a man’s life without fear of any legal retribution. And perhaps there are people in Mississippi and Missouri and scattered across the nation who have done just that.
This is not the story of one life or one death. It is a story of a system of unearned privileges and underserved penalties that will not end until we end it.