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Did George Floyd ever happen?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Since the police murder of George Floyd, here’s what’s happened. There have been countless marches and rallies to stop police slaying of Blacks. The killings continue. There have been countless calls for local and state prosecutions of cops who wantonly kill. The killings continue. There have been countless press conferences, lawsuits, and multi-million-dollar settlements. The killings continue. There has been praise and support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The killings continue. There have been countless calls to defund the police. The killings continue.

The 60-bullet slaying of Jayland Walker by Akron police and the slaying of Rob Adams by San Bernardino, California sheriffs — with the usual claim that they thought both men had guns — put the capper on the continued season of deadly gunplay by police against young Blacks under the most dubious circumstances. It’s as if George Floyd never happened.

The one slight ray of hope was that Congress would pass, and Biden would sign, the George Floyd Police Reform Bill. The Democratic-controlled House, with not a single GOP member in support, passed the bill in March 2021. McConnell and the other 49 GOP senators flatly said no to it. The bill is for all practical purposes dead as a doornail in Congress.

The officers who use deadly gunplay are placed on paid administrative leave. Police officials, when confronted with the pro forma outcry and demands from civil rights and community leaders for an investigation, make solemn promises of investigations thorough and impartial.

That’s the start of the problem. The police agencies that are on the hotseat for a dubious shooting or other act that results in the death of a civilian investigate themselves. There is almost never an independent, outside agency that will conduct a truly impartial investigation. The one agency that can do that is the Justice Department.

Despite the ongoing wave of highly questionable police shootings of mostly young Blacks and Latinos, the Justice Department has done almost nothing to nail shoot-first cops. Periodic reports on police misconduct by Human Rights Watch, an international public watchdog group, found that federal prosecutors bring excessive force charges against police officers in less than 1% of the police abuse allegations investigated by the FBI. The group also found that there has been almost no increase in the skimpy number of police misconduct cases prosecuted by the Justice Department in the past decade.

Even in the rare cases where cops are hauled into court for overuse of deadly force, it’s near impossible to convict. Their defense lawyers are top guns with lots of experience defending police officers accused of misconduct. Police unions spare no expense to bankroll their defense. Cops rarely serve any pre-trial jail time and are released on ridiculously low bail.

If the cops are tried by a jury, defense attorneys seek to get as many middle-class people, whites and even Blacks and Latinos, on the jury as possible. The presumption is that they are more likely to believe police and prosecution witnesses than Black witnesses, defendants, or even the victims.

Floyd’s killer, former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, and the officers who aided and abetted his murder, were rare exceptions of cops who wantonly kill who are prosecuted and convicted. They are even rarer examples of cops that the feds charge with civil rights violations and win convictions. There’s no evidence since Floyd’s murder this has changed.

Why? There is no ironclad standard of what is or isn’t an acceptable use of force. It often comes down to the officer’s judgment call. This pattern has been evident since the Rodney King case in 1992. Police claim that they feared for their lives in confronting civilians and use deadly force solely in self-defense. Judges and juries routinely buy this line and acquit.

The code of silence is another powerful obstacle to convicting bad cops. Officers hide behind it and refuse to testify against other officers, or tailor their testimony to put the officer’s actions in the best possible light.

The SCOTUS ruling in June 2022 that loosened the Miranda warning requirement sent yet another powerful signal to police that the courts will have their back in even the most questionable misconduct and violence cases. The roar of the right, a primordial SCOTUS and a gun-happy America all add up to one continuing horror. There will be more dubious killings such as Walker and Adams. Again, did George Floyd ever happen?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.   

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