What happened to George Floyd, a black man choked out by a white Minneapolis cop kneeling on his neck, sure looks like murder to me.
It wasn’t an accident. Floyd was subdued and on the ground. This was the cold application of deadly force.
The cop has his knee on the neck. Floyd is begging to breathe until he stopped begging. He later died.
Now it’s all part of the all-too familiar American liturgy of media and the politics of police violence: Panicked and angry politicians, angry protesters, street violence, allegations of racism and injustice.
I’m no prosecutor, juror or judge. But there is a rule in journalism — or at least there was once, when journalism followed its own rules — that you don’t call it murder until charges are filed.
And even then, charges alone can’t show what was in the mind of the white cop kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
I have friends who are cops and I know they have impossible jobs. In Chicago right now, they’re being thrown under the bus by City Hall for not keeping order in the city of violence; a city that just experienced its most violent Memorial Day weekend in years with 49 shot and 10 dead.
Chicago is the city where prosecutors and judges routinely release dangerous, violent men from jail on little or no bond, or on electronic monitoring, to satisfy the politics of the social justice warriors. They show more concern for the jailed than for the communities that are preyed upon. The cops make arrests. Then watch as the arrested go free.
And some of the released commit violence again, as Chicago Tribune investigations have found, and there is more blood on the streets, more weeping of the mothers of the dead.
So, with all that, I really shouldn’t say that what Minneapolis cops did to George Floyd was murder, even though it looks like murder. But from Chicago, I can offer Minneapolis two simple words:
A white Chicago cop was convicted of murdering Laquan McDonald. City Hall sat on the police video, showing McDonald, a black teenager, shot 16 times by former Officer Jason Van Dyke.
The lesson of Chicago to Minneapolis doesn’t only involve the police murder of McDonald. The civic sin involves the corrupt politics that came after death.
City Hall sat on the McDonald police video, keeping it hidden from public view. This allowed then mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, former President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, to win re-election.
But after McDonald, Emanuel was finished politically here. He has found a new perch. He now opines on the greater good as a talking head on ABC news. He writes op-eds in newspapers. He advises national Democrats such as Joe Biden.
And national media, knowing what it knows about how the McDonald case (but also in thrall of all things Obama) still kisses Emanuel’s behind.
Is that corruption? Or is corruption only about some small-time pol at a back table, taking greasy envelopes of cash?
In Chicago, we’ve been brutalized by our politics for years. We don’t believe in coincidences. Do they believe in coincidences in Minneapolis?
Criminologists and local police training experts quoted by the Star Tribune in Minneapolis condemned the knee-to-the-neck technique, once taught to police there but discontinued in 2016.
“It was outrageous, excessive unreasonable force,” the newspaper quoted George Kirkham as saying. He’s professor emeritus at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University and has written several training manuals.
“The man was prone on the ground. He was no threat to anyone,” Kirkham said.
And there are those horrific videos taken by bystanders in Minneapolis. You see Floyd begging to breathe.
He had been arrested on suspicion of allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a store. He allegedly resisted arrest. He died for it.
“Please, please, please I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd says pleading with police cops. He calls for his mother. That’s what men do when they’re dying. They call for their mother.
Before he passed out, Floyd kept saying, “Please. Please. Please.”
“Let him breathe at least,” says someone to the cops. “You’ve got him down, let him breathe, man.”
But they didn’t let him breathe.
The cop with his knee on Floyd’s neck is reportedly a 19-year department veteran who has been involved in police shootings over the years.
That alone isn’t an indictment. The real police as they’re called, aggressive police, make arrests of aggressive criminals. With arrests come complaints.
The police house cats don’t have complaints in their files. They don’t make arrests. They make politics.
The other officer identified from the video is younger, and reportedly graduated from the police academy in 2009.
The knee bothers me. But so, too, does the younger partner’s passivity. You’d think he’d grab his partner, pull him off, get in his face, telling him to let the man breathe. But he didn’t. He let it happen.
And now George Floyd is dead.
It wasn’t an accident, was it?
It looks like murder to me.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.