In May 2020, Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old with a smartphone camera, documented the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Most Americans who watched the video of Floyd begging for his life, as Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, saw a human being. Robert Kroll did not. The head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis saw a “violent criminal” and viewed the protests that followed as a “terrorist movement.” In a letter to union members, he complained that Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death had been “terminated without due process.”
Kroll’s response was typical. In the apocalyptic rhetoric of police-union leaders, every victim of police misconduct is a criminal who had it coming, and anyone who objects to such misconduct is probably also a criminal, and, by implication, a legitimate target of state violence. Due process is a privilege reserved for the righteous—that is, police officers who might lose their jobs, not the citizens who might lose their lives in a chance encounter with law enforcement.
In the Floyd case, the effectiveness of this rhetoric, so powerful in years past, was blunted by what Americans could see with their own eyes. That eight-minute-46-second video became the spark for what were reportedly the largest civil-rights protests in the history of the United States. It also led to the trial and conviction of Chauvin and the indictment of the three officers who stood by while their colleague committed murder.
But what if Frazier hadn’t had the presence of mind to record what she witnessed? Floyd might have been remembered by the public as Kroll had described him, and that could have been more than enough to spare Chauvin and the others from indictment. The headline of the police department’s statement on the day of Floyd’s murder—“Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction”—might have become the accepted version of events. [Continue reading…]