Guest Post by Harold Cameron
Business owners in Minneapolis-St. Paul — and frankly Americans in any one of a dozen cities that endured months of looting, violence, and flames last year — know only one resolution of the great George Floyd saga has any hope of preserving their safety and property. Only a second-degree murder conviction will do. Only a public affirmation of Derek Chauvin’s guilt, an institutional adoption of the notion — promoted by activists and journalists — that the former police Minneapolis police officer callously executed an unarmed black man in front of onlookers can possibly forestall another round of rioting, destruction, and “racial reckoning.”
I have some bad news for all these people: Derek Chauvin did nothing wrong.
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I admit this revelation came as something of a surprise even to me. For much of the last year I certainly thought Chauvin had been overcharged for political reasons, that the media were ignoring the confounding factors in Floyd’s death, and that dozens of groups inside the government and out were exploiting a tragic situation for political gain. I never thought the video that launched a thousand riots depicted a murder, but I thought it likely that Chauvin had gone too far, acted foolishly or even cold-heartedly, and that a man wound up dead at least in part due to Chauvin’s cavalier attitude.
In two weeks of the prosecution presenting its case, we’ve learned that none of that is true. Chauvin not only unequivocally didn’t want to kill Floyd, he in fact probably didn’t. What’s more, he appears not to have done anything wrong, legally, morally, or technically.
Even a charitable reading of the evidence put before the jury during the state’s case makes clear the “execution” narrative is pure fiction.
George Floyd was high on a massive dose of powerful opioids and complaining of respiratory distress — just as an overdose victim would — before Derek Chauvin restrained him. He may, depending on interpretations of the audio, have even muttered “I ate too many drugs” as his distress became acute on the pavement.
The fact that Floyd was dying of a drug overdose does not itself absolve Chauvin. Neither would him dying of a drug overdose while he had COVID and heart disease. As the old law school hypothetical goes, someone who shoots a man dead after he jumps off a building but before he hits the ground is still guilty of murder.
That’s not the case we’re dealing with. None of the state’s witnesses have pointed to any notable injuries to the dead man’s neck. While Chauvin was supposedly choking the life out of him, Floyd continued to speak and resist. A good portion of the state’s witnesses’ medical testimony is devoted to claiming that — like the lethal amount of fentanyl in Floyd’s blood — the jury should simply ignore this.
Now we know why: the central claim of the execution narrative that set the country aflame in racial violence — that Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine and a half minutes — is false. The state’s own expert witness admitted on the stand that photographs taken at various intervals showed Chauvin’s knee not on Floyd’s neck but on his back. Like 2014’s “hands up, don’t shoot,” “knee on his neck for nine minutes” was always a lie. Lesser lies, such as Floyd calling out for his mother as a white cop murdered him, seem almost insignificant in comparison, but we now know “Mama” was Floyd’s drug addict girlfriend, Courteney Ross, a passenger in his car along with their drug dealer, Maurice Hall.
If Chauvin didn’t murder Floyd, he still may still have acted callously with regard to his well-being. But the state’s case hasn’t come close to proving that. Despite Floyd’s crimes, the police were not there to do him harm, but were there waiting for the paramedics they called to arrive — waiting and holding Floyd in place after he repeatedly resisted attempts to get him into a police car, waiting while a threatening mob bayed.
What we have in the Floyd case is yet another example of the public’s inability to comprehend how difficult it is to control an adult human who does not want to be controlled. This widespread delusion of liberal women and others who have never had to physically restrain someone — that it doesn’t take much effort to just keep someone in place — is one of the most destructive in the modern world. It was stupid enough when people tried the “but why didn’t he just hold him?” nonsense in reference to the 160-pound Trayvon Martin nearly a decade ago. It is downright absurd to think that 140-pound Derek Chauvin could have controlled the muscular, 6’ 4”, 230-pound George Floyd with a magical, civil-looking application of force while a circling crowed threatened him with violence.
When Floyd continued resisting arrest after being placed in handcuffs, Chauvin didn’t beat him with a baton. He didn’t taze him. He didn’t put in him a chokehold. He put one knee on what the prosecution is now optimistically calling Floyd’s “neck area” and waited for the ambulance to come save Floyd’s life in a “load and scoot” operation to avoid crowd interference. The worst that could be said is that he didn’t simply let Floyd go because he was still complaining about being unable to breath, just as he had been since the beginning of the encounter. The state’s case so far boils down to a collection of experts equating that to murder.
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In other words, Chauvin did nothing wrong, and all the arguments about the Minneapolis Police use of force manual and speculation about what he “could have done” can’t change that.
Unfortunately, in 2021, that knowledge may not be enough to keep Derek Chauvin out of prison. Too many people’s ideological convictions — not to mention the safety and livelihoods of millions of city-dwellers across America — are riding on this case. We know from jury selection that potential jurors are absolutely afraid of the consequences of delivering an unpopular verdict, a fear militant leftists and The New York Times have done nothing to assuage.
What the knowledge of Chauvin’s innocence can do is free us from the moral bargaining and equivocation the most powerful institutions in the country have demanded of us for nearly a year. We can stop pretending that “it might not be murder, but something has to change.” We can stop saying “well no case is black and white, but the rioters do have something to be angry about.” We can stop hedging that “what Chauvin did was wrong, but abandoning the police in the name of racial harmony is worse.”
In light of the evidence presented at trial, this is no longer merely an issue of supporting the cops who make it possible for normal Americans to live alongside belligerent criminals. It’s a matter of how much we’re willing to delude ourselves to please the people who think they have the right to burn our cities whenever a black criminal dies in police custody. If the jury follows the evidence and refuses to find Chauvin guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we may find out again just how little credit sympathy and self-delusion actually buys with the mob.
Harold Cameron is a retired lawyer from Washington D.C.