The Floyd Question That Can’t Be Asked

This will surprise some people, but Derek Chauvin, the cop who has been widely deemed primarily responsible for the killing of George Floyd, has yet to be convicted of anything.  While Floyd has morphed from victim of police brutality to cultural icon, Chauvin awaits his fate, both as the putative killer of the icon, a fact that’s in significant medical doubt despite what people believe they saw, and as the embodiment of police racism.

Reason’s Robby Soave asked a question.

(Whispers): We still don’t actually know that racism was a motivating factor in the unjust killing of George Floyd.

Is it a bad question? An outrageous question? A, dare I say it, racist question? Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times explained.

This statement reduces the role of racism to narrow questions of individual motivation — versus questions of institutional practice and structural conditions — in order to suggest an overreaction or lack of rigor.

To be fair, Bouie’s reaction, quote-twitted so his followers would know that Soave was either stupid or racist and, as is required, go after him with intellectual rigor, was not impolite per se, but makes clear that Soave rejected critical race theory, a movement that centers all thought and conduct on race and racism. It began with law, and criminal law in particular, as a means of explaining how law, police, courts and all the participants are engaged in “systemic racism.”

There is racism.
Racism is not merely a “big deal,” but unquestionably wrong.
Everything is not racism.

One can connect the dots, from poverty to crime and see how racism results in mass incarceration. And for many who believe that critical race theory explains all, that suffices to provide a sufficient explanation to justify chanting “systemic racism” whenever it’s needed to explain a phenomenon, whether the killing of a black man or the leniency shown a white man.

In other words, what difference does it make whether Derek Chauvin is racist, or acted with regard to George Floyd from any racial motivations. He was part of a racist system because the police are inherently racist, a group created to sustain white supremacy and to oppress black people, so Robby Soaves’ raising the question of Chauvin’s motivation misses the point. It’s not about the cop who allegedly killed, but every cop, every bust, every killing, because of systemic racism, an intellectually rigorous view of society through the lens of race and racism.

Whether you accept that theory or not isn’t really the point. Whether Robby Soave’s question was fair or Jamelle Bouie’s retort was more persuasive isn’t the point. The point is that one can’t ask the question, to engage in a discussion that so many want to pretend matters, without being told their failure to believe in critical theory, that “systemic racism” answers all questions, makes them either ignorant or racist.

One of the foundational concepts of criminal law is individual responsibility. Defendants are arrested, prosecuted and, if convicted, sentenced based on the specifics that apply to them as individuals. In most instances, people who commit crimes make choices. They can choose to knock someone over the head to steal their money or not. One defendant might do it because his children are starving. Another might do it because he wants to buy a vial of crack. A third might do it just because the victim looked like an easy mark and having more money is better than having less. Unless someone put a gun to their head, however, all three have one thing in common. They made a decision to do something that harms another person.

The contention that if the person doing the head-knocking is black, it must be systemic racism may serve as a generic rationale for the conduct, although I cringe whenever I hear the phrase as it’s meaningless and provides nothing of value to a problem that can be fixed. What system? What’s racist about it? What can be done to change it? What harm will be done if we do? Bear in mind that most black people still want cops on their streets, as they are no more thrilled to be knocked on the head by a black person than anyone else. Unlike theoreticians or the woke on twitter, they’re the ones with the concussion and empty wallet.

I can tell you that I’ve dealt with racism and its consequences for most of my career, and I’m acutely aware of it and how it influences the functioning of the legal system. But then, I also think “systemic racism” is worse than useless as an explanation, as it avoids addressing anything specific that needs to be fixed and dumps everything together. It’s satisfying to the simplistic, as it provides a macrocosmic answer to everything, but worthless to any individual as it neither keeps them from getting killed by a cop or knocked over the head on the way to the corner store.

But saying so doesn’t make me a non-racist anymore, and indeed, I’m regularly called racist for not being an “anti-racist,” for not embracing social justice and chalking everything up to systemic racism. You see, if you don’t accept critical race theory, you are a racist as far as believers are concerned. And there’s nothing to be said that can change their mind.

So what about Robby Soave’s question, whether Derek Chauvin, former police officer and now defendant charged with the killing of George Floyd. Is it fair to ask whether racism was a motivating factor? Chauvin is the guy being prosecuted, but if the “answer” is that his being a white cop at the time pre-proves his racist murder of George Floyd, then there isn’t much point to a trial as it’s not about him, or his motives, but that he’s the personification of systemic racism and there was never any question of his racist guilt.

There is racism.
Racism is not merely a “big deal,” but unquestionably wrong.
Everything is not racism.

Distinguishing racism from a cop who would have knelt on the neck of any person, regardless of race, under the same circumstances is the trick. But even raising the question is too racist to be allowed. There doesn’t seem to be much point to a trial, to individualized guilt or responsibility, when the question can’t be asked, and is necessarily already answered.

15 thoughts on “The Floyd Question That Can’t Be Asked

  1. orthogon

    CRT cultists never ask whether or not racism occurred in any particular instance. As we live in a racist society, that question is a foregone conclusion. They only explore how racism is present in any situation. Imagine you (a white person) are a shopkeeper and a white person and a black person approach you at the same time. No matter who you choose to serve first, there is a racist reason for doing so. (I bet you can guess). Both explanations are “correct” because both confirm the presence of structural racism. Your choice is irrelevant and can’t change this unalterable fact. As a possessor of skin privilege, your job is to “do better” and it is not any POC’s job to specify how.

    Toxic wokeness is an epistemic sinkhole.

    1. SHG Post author

      The irony for a guy like me is that I see racism and I fight racism by actually identifying specific things that need to be changed. But when everything is racism, nothing is, and no one will be saved.

      1. Dan J

        Seems like saying “Black people can’t succeed without help from white people” is pretty racist too. But I guess it is ok if you scream loud enough at anyone who disagrees.

        1. SHG Post author

          Telling that you impute race where it’s not at issue. This is what criminal defense lawyers do, regardless of whether they’re white or purple. But that’s what CRT does to people.

  2. B. McLeod

    To the lynch mob that is out to punish officers, Chauvin’s motive is irrelevant. He was part of killing a black person, so he must be punished. The “systemic racism” is shown by the fact that he wasn’t immediately charged with murder. Compare the Breonna Taylor case, where “systemic racism” has been imputed due to the delayed decision on charges. Nobody has ever contended that whichever officer(s) fired the fatal rounds had any specific motivation. But “racism was obviously a factor,” because, reasons.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m rather disappointed that no one has stepped up to offer a polemic in defense of critical theory. Hell, Jay hasn’t even called me a racist yet. What a bunch of slackers.

  3. Kathryn M. Kase

    Soave’s question is nothing new. It’s a distillation of the majority opinion in McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987).

  4. Rxc

    But if it’s systemic racism, then no individual can be held responsible for any unpleasant behavior or outcome. The only solution is to reform the entire system, from the ground up. And to do that you have to rebuild the foundations, which means that all of the the upper stories need to come down. (Engineer analogy).

    They say explicitly that they want to do thus- raze everything to the ground and start over. Why can’t anyone take them at their word? Insist that they explain, in detail how that will work. I think that the response would be to say that planning is white male privilege behavior and ignore the question.

    1. SHG Post author

      Insist? Why didn’t anyone think of that? They’ve given a general outline of their Utopian ideals (like abolish police and fund social workers, schools and housing), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the new building will stand on its own when the first gust of wind blows (engineer analogy).

  5. Carlyle Moulton

    Humans are hung up on bright line distinctions such as that between good and evil.

    Real life is messier better described in shades from grey to off-white.

    There is a concept called fuzzy logic in which one describes a statement not as being true or false but as of such a percentage true and of (100 – such a percentage) false.

    In the case of the assertion that systemic racism exists I would guess it is between 60% and 80% true and between 20% and 40% false.

    This is may be a better place to start.

    1. Brian Cowles

      I’m afraid that doesn’t help here, as the problem is the proposition itself, not its truth value. Even if accepted in full, it explains nothing and provides no means to “fix” anything.

      (Which was the point of the post.)

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