The Floyd Effect

The verdict on all three counts, guilty. Does it say that the jury in one trial found one defendant’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, or does it reflect a shift in public perception of cops, of law enforcement, that enough is enough? Both? Something else? Interpreting the meaning of things like guilty verdicts beyond their inherent parameters is a game for fools and knaves, usually found on cable news, but one thing is clear: the jury convicted and it has validated the beliefs of a great many Americans that police are prejudiced, callous and too violent.

Put aside the legalities at issue in the conviction, most of which will ultimately prove insignificant. Don’t read anything more into the verdict than the jury found the facts. Legal issues on appeal aside, defendants are presumed innocent unless and until a jury find the defendant guilty. That has now happened. You accept the wins and losses alike. This is our system and that was the jury’s verdict.

More than a decade ago, when few believed, no less accepted, the premise that  there were too many bad cops, violent cops, racist cops, and asked what could be done, one thing kept coming up, over and over. The culture within policing must change, and that change had to come from within.

Some cops saw this and understood. Many tried to push their fellow officers to see the problems and deal with them. From 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement to Seth Stoughten, cops have tried to tell their fellow cops that their culture has to change. Another ex-cop, Peter Moskos, has explained why cops are the way they are, what their perspective of reality on the streets looks like. The problem isn’t so much that Moskos is wrong about how cops perceive their job relative to reality, but whether that’s good enough anymore. Or whether it was good enough ever?

No one will be surprised that our relationship to police and law tends to be a pendulum, swinging too far one way, then too far the other. We went from acceptance of police being carelessly callous and violent, openly racist, to now having cries to abolish police taken as a serious idea. The president called for the law named after a dead guy, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, ironically written in part by Kamala Harris, to be enacted. The law includes some decent reforms and some that will likely not play out the way its proponents believe they will.

Just as there was gross overkill in the past when crime was a top national concern, and politicians of all races on all sides fought to out-tough the other side and shower our brave and courageous crime fighters with love and money, and it didn’t work, so too will these new changes disappoint us. We are constantly trying to tweak the system in response to one problem while pretending there aren’t other problems that will arise. The proposed law would eliminate no-knock warrants because of what happened to Breonna Taylor among others. No-knock warrants are, in general, a bad thing, not because there isn’t a legitimate use for them, but because cops have handled them horribly, carelessly and abusively.

This emits the odor of the mechanic blaming the tools for the ugly system of policing we’ve built. The problem is that we can more easily control the tools available than the skills of the mechanic, or in this case, the attitude of the police not to be needlessly overbearing, violent, callous and offensive to their fellow citizens.

What will strike most cops hardest about the verdict is that they watched the same video as us non-cops and saw the same conduct that they’ve used many times, the only difference being that their knee holding someone down didn’t result in death.* Few will admit this, but they know that there, but for the grace of whatever deity they pray to, go they, and that can’t be right. They can explain ten different ways why they did it, and how nothing bad came of it. But they now see that one cop who did what they’ve done a hundred times was just convicted of murder for it.

There are two potential reactions on the part of police. The first, and most obvious, is to insist that the conviction is wrong, and fight it. Some will see this as a reason to retire, that they’re no longer appreciated and won’t put themselves and their families at risk for doing what they believe to be “the job.” Some will, as a cop told me yesterday, slow down, take their foot off the gas pedal and not be there to do the dirty work of policing. If you don’t want them to be cops, they won’t be. Let the public get what they want and find out what it means to live without police cleaning up the mess society creates.

The other reaction is to realize that too many cops lost their humanity along the way. They forgot that the people they deal with are human beings, just like them, and not just mutts and skels. And, it needs saying, that black people aren’t all criminals to be treated like worthless scum.

A phrase was used during the Chauvin trial, “awful but lawful.” This phrase refers to police conduct that looks horrible to the public but remains within the bounds of the law. The law gives the police enormous latitude to do their job, recognizing, perhaps too far, that the vicissitudes of police interactions aren’t easily constrained by rules that will never be sufficient to cover every possibility. But the phrase offers a more important message. Stop being awful when it’s not truly necessary. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because it might not be criminal doesn’t mean you’re entitled to behave like animals toward your fellow citizens.

And mostly, just because someone is black doesn’t mean you get to treat them like  dirt, like some lesser form of humanity unworthy of the normal human courtesy you want for yourself.

This isn’t all cops. This isn’t all the time. But if cops don’t want the swinging pendulum to take them out, the lesson here is that cops have it within their power, as they always have, to be better. If they choose not to be, there’s a good chance following this moment in time that society is not going to let things continue the way they have. You could have prevented this from happening if only you saw this coming a decade ago. You could have been a skilled mechanic, wielding your tools with discretion, respectful of your fellow citizens and doing as little harm to others as possible. You failed. It’s now here, and what comes of the Floyd Effect is up to you.

*Maybe I’ve watched too many videos of police interactions, but as bad as the Floyd video may have been, it wasn’t remotely the worst. It was reckless and callous, but so many are outright malicious, deliberate brutality against people for absolutely no reason. Having seen so much worse than the Floyd video, the fact that this one resulted in a conviction speaks volumes about how public perception of policing has shifted.

42 thoughts on “The Floyd Effect

  1. Sgt. Schultz

    You made the point about mechanics and tools in many contexts over the years. You said it about judges and bail. You said about prosecutors and charges. You said it about cops and force. We keep trying to add or remove some part of the Rube Goldberg machine to fix the system, and yet we never quite get it to work right and there are always unintended consequences that bring about some new problem that demands yet another tweak to the machine.

    But it’s not the tools. It’s the mechanic.

  2. CLS

    Two thoughts came to me as I watched news coverage of the verdict.

    First was “How can any cop think this is a fair trial when a lawprawf who’s essentially a BLM advocate gets twenty minutes of airtime today?”

    The second was “Is it really so hard to understand why cops have an “us vs. them” mindset if the media continually drag them through the mud daily?”

    And I’m far from what the woke call a “cop apologist.”

    1. SHG Post author

      The pervasive narrative in the media at the moment is just as one-sided and simplistic as it was during the crack epidemic years ago, when every black and Hispanic dude was a murderous drug dealer and we needed to do everything possible to end crime. And cops loved it when they were the heroes, basking in their power and impunity. Now they’re the goat.

      1. norahc

        “And mostly, just because someone is black doesn’t mean you get to treat them like dirt, like some lesser form of humanity unworthy of the normal human courtesy you want for yourself.”

        I’d posit that in today’s society, if you don’t treat a black person like royalty with special privileges and rights, you’re going to be accused of being racist no mattet what. We appear have moved beyond treating everyone equally and as equals.

        1. SHG Post author

          While that may be the case in some instances, I doubt things have gone quite so far in general. But that’s unfortunately how Newton’s Third Law works, and if cops are unduly solicitous to black people now, it’s a lot better than how they treated them before.

          1. norahc

            I sincerely hope you’re right in that we haven’t gotten that far yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Critical Race Theory decides Newton’s Laws are racist.

          2. Rengit

            The reaction to the shooting (including by the usually sober-minded Sherrod Brown) of that 15 year-old girl in Columbus, who was charging at another girl knife in hand, doesn’t inspire much confidence that those inclined towards wokeness are capable of differentiating between justified vs. unjustified when it comes to a black person being shot by a police officer or a non-black person, particularly if the shooter ticks both of those boxes.

            It could just be bad timing, though, an effect of raining on the parade of the Chauvin conviction.

            1. SHG Post author

              Some truly bizarre reactions reflecting a total loss of touch with reality.

            2. LY

              I’m sure the girl who was about to get stabbed was very glad the police “addressed the situation by showing up on the scene and using a weapon on one of the teenagers”.

              Geez people, get your head out your ass….

            3. DS

              Part of the reason is that some early reporting on the incident, such as the initial article from The Daily Beast, painted this as exactly the kind of racist police brutality BLM is supposed to be fighting.

              It was only later, when the bodycam footage came out, that we had a real picture of what happened. But by then a lot of people had made up their minds, and a lot of those types of people tend to dismiss people contradicting them as racists and/or bootlickers.

  3. Reasonable?

    Sorry if you’ve covered this as I am a bit new to the blog, but why did the “reasonable officer” standard not work in this case? I remember reading your excellent article on Tamir Rice, and thinking that it would be almost impossible to convict an officer if another officer deemed the conduct reasonable. What was the difference in this case?

      1. Edward

        Wasn’t the option of waiving a jury trial available? I have to think a bench trial would have given better odds of acquittal. Of course, the atmosphere changed dramatically from the start of the trial to the end.

        1. SHG Post author

          After conviction, absurd notions suddenly seem like reasonable alternatives. They’re not. They never were. And no, this is not a discussion to have here because it’s that absurd.

      2. Reasonable?

        My questions goes to more than just the jury verdict. In the past, as I mentioned with Tamir Rice and also Daniel Shaver (to move this out of a strictly racial conversation), charges were not even brought against the officers who killed them. Why were charges brought against Chauvin? Was it just that the DA in charge was different/had different political pressure?

        1. SHG Post author

          That wasn’t your initial question, which I now regret posting. This is a law blog, not a dumb legal questions blog. Try reddit if you want someone capable of reading prosecutor’s minds.

          1. Reasonable?

            “This is a law blog, not a dumb legal questions blog.”

            By having comments, you are inviting people with no law background to ask questions you think are dumb. It looks like you get quite annoyed with a majority of comments posted here, so why even have them?

            And my original question was incorporating the initial charging in the case, although it was admittedly vague.

            1. SHG Post author

              By having comments, there’s an opportunity for discussion amongst lawyers and judges who have something illuminating to contribute. You make this mistake because you’re not not a lawyer or judge and only waste time with insipid questions. That will now be rectified to correct your persistence in commenting despite having absolutely nothing useful to contribute.

            2. Miles

              Narcissism is an ugly thing. Combined with stupidity, it’s downright pathetic. Show a little humility and be thankful that you’re allowed to read SJ without shitting up the comments.

            3. SHG Post author

              Don’t be so harsh. New non-lawyers here don’t realize they have little to contribute in the comments and are used to lawyers elsewhere inviting their questions. Just not here.

  4. B. McLeod

    Brutally whooping on Floyd might have looked a lot more violent, but holding this choke for over nine minutes was going to cause at least serious permanent brain damage, if not death. The technique looks relatively benign, and properly used, it is, but used as it was by Chauvin, it was going to cause a problem.

    More significant for police culture will be the “aiding and abetting” trials for the remaining officers. Many officers have probably never done as Chauvin did, but most of them have likely protected or failed to stop a Chauvin. If the juries bring in those convictions, that will likely mean more than a law named after George Floyd. (Generally speaking, having a law or medical condition named for you is not a net positive).

      1. B. McLeod

        Indeed. But when it comes to shimewaza strangulation techniques, the probable result of a nine-minute hold is not a secret. These holds have been used in MMA and judo competitions for decades, and in the pre-existing jiu jujitsu forms, for centuries. Three minutes would be the outside limit to release the hold and revive a person to avoid lasting effects.

        The Minneapolis policy manual defined these techniques as “unconscious neck restraints,” and did not allow them at all for suspects not actively resisting. Oddly, in cases where they were allowed, the policy made no mention of time standards or the kuatsu measures for reviving the unconscious subjects.

  5. Kathleen Casey

    It appears there will not be riots. That’s bad news to systemic racist justice system race-baiters — possibly — but good news for the rest of us.

    1. B. McLeod

      There will not be riots about the verdict, but we are already on to the next shooting. Democratic Columbus in Democratic Franklin County. Lordy. I hope the Democrats hurry up with that George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

  6. Richard Parker

    Many police will retire “on the job” and wait for pensions. Urban Blacks will suffer for this.

    OTOH, I was recently strongly urged to call the police on a senior white woman who was aggressively trespassing. I refused. When you call the police, sometimes people end up dead.

    Not very often, but often enough.

      1. LY

        Can I ask what “aggressively trespassing” is? Google was no help, the closest it came was aggravated trespass.

  7. Sam

    “What will strike most cops hardest about the verdict is that they watched the same video as us non-cops and saw the same conduct that they’ve used many times, the only difference being that their knee holding someone down didn’t result in death.”

    With all due respect to the rest of the article which contains several insightful points and a worthy call to action, it’s pretty silly to impugn “most” (whatever arbitrary percentage that is) of the 697,195 police officers in this country by way of a baseless use of force accusation. You’ve decried the lack of specificity inherent in charges of systemic racism in prior posts, and yet here you are homogenizing an entire profession and the communities they serve for rhetorical purposes. It’s an easy move to make from an ensconced profession that has 0% of the public’s attention, has little legislative attention from the body politic, and has no inexperienced finger-waggers suggesting they could do it better and yet never do.

    1. SHG Post author

      You may be right. I can only go by what I’ve seen and been told by my cop friends. There are a number of cops who are regulars here, and none have complained to me about my statement. Are they the bad ones while you’re the good one? Perhaps.

      “Most,” which means a majority as the word is universally defined, may be an overstatement or not. As for “homogenizing” an entire occupation, that’s the nature of generalizations. Odd how sensitive police can be when they feel unflattered. Cops can be so very delicate when it’s their feelings at stake.

      1. Sam

        Thanks for publishing the comment. Respect.

        Who says I’m a cop? Would it not be reasonable for any knowledgeable citizen, especially those with passing familiarity about law enforcement such as prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals, civilian staffers, forensic analysists, law clerks, nurses, or educators, to come to the same conclusion? I can guarantee that individuals in those professions have had many positive experiences with police officers, using force and otherwise, in the courtroom, hospital, and school.

        Asking for fair treatment (fair including measures of accountability to include criminal convictions) is not the same as asking for flattery. It would be foolish for someone to chime in here and expect such a thing regardless of their belief, and I mean that in a positive way about the blog.

        1. Sgt. Schultz

          Just so you know, no one missed that you didn’t say you weren’t a cop. And there’s nothing wrong with you being a cop, but do not believe it went noticed.

  8. Joseph Masters

    Interesting metaphor–pendulum–but this case and result was in a continuum. Chauvin stood no chance because of the actions of Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, the previous rung in the ladder.

    Minnesota prosecutors only convicted Noor for third-degree murder after he killed Justine Damond. They were out for blood because Noor escaped a second-degree murder conviction, and Chauvin and his attorney made a major mistake in invoking Graham v. Conner. Prosecutors were ready this time, and ran over Chauvin because they both had him dialed in and dead to rights.

    Turns out invoking the words “reasonable” and/or “scared” are not as bulletproof as cops were taught. The continuum in Cook County, Illinois has lead Van Dyke to drop all his appeals as of October 2020 after state’s attorney’s mocked CPD officer Lowell Houser for invoking Graham v. Conner language before convicting Houser of second-degree murder.

    Kim Potter is next in line in Minnesota, and this means she’s likely cooked. It must be jarring for police officers to realize that murder and manslaughter statues apply equally to their actions, but the truth that anyone can be convicted for second-degree murder and the continuum is real was proved on 20 April 2021.

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