Choosing the Reckoning

It was a bad day for those who say you either stand up for and stand behind the police, or you don’t. That’s a binary choice. You’re for law and order or you’re for anarchy. You’re probably pro-murder. You might even secrecy be Black – or wish you were. But it’s Blue Lives that matter here. There’s that Thin Blue Line that protects us all – a line of heroes. And so forth and so on. The words are always angry. All we have between us and the criminals and the Hispanic gangs and the young Black thugs and gay perverts out to seduce and ruin our children, not to mention Antifa and elderly Chinese women and the sexy young Korean women too, are our heroic police!

Nothing’s that simple. No one should be that simpleminded. Not after the second day of that trial in Minneapolis. The Washington Post’s Holly Bailey was there:

The teenager who filmed the viral video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck tearfully recalled Tuesday how the Black man begged for his life and the “cold look” on the face of the White police officer accused of killing him.

In deeply emotional testimony, Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 when she came across Floyd being restrained by the police, testified of the lingering anxiety and guilt she feels about Floyd’s death and not doing more to intervene.

Frazier told the jury of looking at her father, her brother, her cousins and friends and the anguish she felt knowing it “could have been one of them” on the ground and how it had added to her guilt. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Frazier tearfully said.

Jurys never convict policemen of anything, ever, or at least generally, but Derek Chauvin is in trouble now:

Frazier was one of several eyewitnesses called to the stand Tuesday, including four girls who were under 18 when they saw Floyd being held to the ground by Chauvin and two other officers during a May 25 police investigation into an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. The jury also heard from firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who was off-duty and came across the scene while on a walk. Hansen burst into tears as she recounted begging officers to check Floyd’s pulse but being rebuffed.

She was a trained EMT but the officers that day did not want her expert medical advice. They were putting on a show for the local kids:

In hours of testimony, during which some jurors looked uncomfortable and shocked, the teenagers testified about their feelings of helplessness and, in some cases, fear as they confronted the Minneapolis officers detaining Floyd while he moaned and begged for his life and ultimately became unresponsive.

“It wasn’t right,” Frazier told prosecutor Jerry Blackwell. “We all knew it wasn’t right.”

But they were being shown, dramatically, that what they “knew” didn’t matter in the slightest. This man would die. Watch:

One of the witnesses – Alyssa Funari, 18 – described how she had driven to Cup Foods, the store where the incident happened, to buy a charging cord for her phone and found Floyd moaning under the pressure of Chauvin’s knee. Like Frazier, she began filming – and watched as Floyd’s eyes rolled back in his head and he stopped moving.

“It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do,” Funari said tearfully, pausing several times to regain her composure. “I knew time was running out or that it had already… that he was going to die.”

That’s what these kids were supposed to see:

For a second straight day, the jury was presented with bystander video of Floyd’s death – including cellphone footage shot by Frazier, Funari and Hansen – with Floyd’s moans punctuating the quiet downtown Minneapolis courtroom. The former officer, who is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, often averted his eyes, but he showed no emotion as the footage was played on courtroom screens.

That was always the point:

The girls described how as Floyd stopped moving, the small group of bystanders that had formed began yelling for Chauvin to get off Floyd and for Chauvin or one of the other officers at the scene – J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao – to check his pulse.

“Chauvin just stared at us, looked at us. He had like this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” Frazier testified.

As the crowd became more emotional and yelled louder for the officers to check on Floyd, Chauvin reached for his mace, and two of the girls recalled feeling “scared” at what the officer might do. “I felt like I was in danger when he did that,” Frazier told the jurors, as several looked toward her sympathetically. “I felt threatened.”

Yep, they could be next, and the defense was in trouble:

Later, Hansen described how she became concerned when she saw Floyd unresponsive with three officers atop him. Floyd’s face looked “puffy and swollen, which would happen if you are putting a grown man’s weight on someone’s neck,” she said. She also recalled seeing what looked like fluid coming from his body and how it reminded her of patients who “release their bladder when they die.”

She recalled trying to intervene and being pushed back by Thao, who expressed skepticism that she was really a firefighter. She said Chauvin ignored her pleas and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. “In my memory, he had his hand in his pocket,” she said. “He looked so comfortable.”

She was nothing but trouble for the defense:

Chauvin’s defense successfully argued to limit Hansen from saying she could have saved Floyd’s life. But the firefighter came close, describing what she would have done if officers had “granted” her access to the scene.

“I would have checked his airway. I would have been worried about a spinal cord injury because he had so much weight on his neck,” she said. “I would have checked for a pulse. And when I didn’t find a pulse, if that was the case, I would have started compressions.”

Under defense cross examination, she sparred with attorney Eric Nelson, who pressed her on whether it was proper for someone to interfere with the police and how she, as a firefighter, would react to someone telling her how to do her job. “I know my job, and I would be confident in doing my job, and there’s nothing anybody could do to distract me,” she shot back.

Nelson pointed out that she became “angry” at the scene – which Hansen didn’t dispute, adding that she also felt “desperate” to save Floyd’s life. “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting,” Hansen said.

What the hell was he supposed to say to that? But the judge saved him:

The tense back-and-forth led Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill to dismiss the jury and admonish Hansen to not argue with Nelson.

“You will not argue with the court,” Cahill said. “You’ll not argue with counsel. They have the right to ask questions. Your job is to answer.”

Sure, but that’s going to cause problems, given the first witness that day:

Proceedings resumed Tuesday with the continued testimony of Donald Williams II, a former wrestler turned mixed martial arts fighter, who testified that he tried to intervene because he believed Chauvin was holding Floyd using a move called a “blood choke,” which cuts circulation to a person’s neck and can be dangerous if held too long.

Nelson questioned him extensively on martial arts moves, including whether he had ever seen someone choked unconscious and then awaken ready to fight – an implication that the officers had reason to restrain the handcuffed Floyd even after he stopped moving.

Nelson, who has argued that Chauvin and the other officers felt threatened by the bystanders around them, asked Williams about his increasing anger at the scene and accused him of threatening the officers. “You can’t paint me out as angry,” Williams responded, adding that he was in control and displaying “professionalism.”

Williams explained he was increasingly upset because Chauvin and the other officers “were not listening to anything I was telling them” and that someone had to “speak out for Floyd.” He later called 911 to report Chauvin, giving the operator the officer’s badge number. “I believed I witnessed a murder,” he testified.

The defense was not going to break this witness. This was real trouble, as Robin Givhan explains here:

The witness Donald Williams was trained in mixed martial arts. He had experience working in security – and alongside police officers – and handling potentially unruly crowds. He also described himself as an entrepreneur and a father. But during his hours of testimony over two days in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged in the death of George Floyd, there is one thing that Williams made clear he was not: an angry Black man.

That he could not afford to be. He was not allowed to be. He could cry for Floyd. He could despair for him. But he was not supposed to be angry, even if that was what Floyd’s death demanded.

In short, he was not going to be trapped:

Defense attorney Eric Nelson has made anger central to his argument for Chauvin’s acquittal. In his version of events, the anger of the growing crowd on the street that May afternoon distracted Chauvin from the man he had pinned under his knee. Floyd, who had been accused of circulating a counterfeit $20 bill, was in Chauvin’s custody, which meant that he was also in his care. But the crowd – that dangerous, unruly mob, according to Nelson – had distracted Chauvin so that he could not attend to Floyd’s well-being. He could only concern himself with his detainment.

That seems to be the defense here. Those kids, and Williams in particular, killed George Floyd. They had so frightened Derek Chauvin that he hadn’t realized he was killing George Floyd. So this is their fault, not his. Givhan has seen this before:

The defense’s narrative makes use of one of the culture’s most damaging and enduring stereotypes about Black men – and women, too. These people ooze anger, and Black anger is inherently menacing. It isn’t justified or understandable or controlled, even when it is all of those things. It most certainly is not righteous. And when it rises, it must be tamped down, defused and crushed.

Nelson, bespectacled and bearded, and with an affinity for florid neckwear, worked hard to have the jury see Williams as enraged – as a man who was yelling at Chauvin and threatening fellow officers. Nelson detailed the many expletives and insults that Williams directed at Chauvin. He portrayed Williams as a man who was advancing toward the police with his chest thrust forward and spoiling for a fight.

Nelson had him. Nelson just won the case right there. And then it all slipped away:

“It’s fair to say you grew angrier and angrier?” Nelson asked.

“I grew professional and professional. I stayed in my body,” Williams replied. “You can’t paint me out to be angry.”

Williams said he was speaking loudly so that he could be heard, so that he wouldn’t be ignored. He was imploring Chauvin to relent. He was calling Chauvin a bum and lacing his speech with expletives because the situation was too dire for polite conversation.

And perhaps that was understandable:

What Williams saw was, on its face, enraging. He had happened upon the sight of Floyd face down on the ground with Chauvin on top of him for more than nine minutes. He heard Floyd cry for help and cry out for air. A young bystander saw him turn “purple” and described him as looking “really limp.” Kids saw this horror. Children. The gathered crowd all watched as their pleas to render aid to Floyd went ignored.

Anger is surely the natural human reaction, along with alarm and concern, but Nelson has characterized that as a wholly unnatural response to Floyd’s dire circumstances, as if he was not worthy of any of those emotions. Should the crowd simply have stood silent?

No. Not now. Not anymore:

History would probably have excused their anger. So many other people of color – unarmed and stopped for minor offenses or for nothing at all – have died during encounters with police officers. They have been deprived of air, riddled with bullets; they’ve been killed without consequences because their death was deemed reasonable. When does fury become moral and decent if not in the face of all that?

But self-control is even better:

Williams seemed to understand the perilousness of leading with anger. He refused to let it be his abiding message on Tuesday afternoon in a Minneapolis courtroom as Nelson tested him. No, his words weren’t getting angrier that awful day in May, he said, “they grew more and more pleading – for life.”

What the hell was Nelson supposed to say to that? He’d been playing blame games. Williams wasn’t playing games:

Williams was so alarmed by what was unfolding before him that he even called 911. He called the police on the police because he had not given up on law enforcement. He still had faith that they had the capacity to protect and to serve. He trusted in their outrage even if society demands that he deny his own.

The phrase resonated. “I stayed in my body.” Williams remained in control. He maintained focus. He was attuned to his movements and gestures. He didn’t let emotions take hold. He didn’t relinquish his soul.

He didn’t relinquish anything:

When Nelson questioned his emotions, pressed him about the expletives he’d used and took a sharp tone, Williams cocked his head sideways and furrowed his brow. Then a slight smile flashed across his face.

Williams did not display a hint of fury. Outrage can be a burden, but it can also be a source of power. If Williams had any anger, he was keeping it in reserve.

And this was the second day of a trial that may go on for three more weeks. The issues are huge. America has a lot to work out.

Republicans choose other issues:

Republicans are opening a new front in the pandemic culture wars, attacking efforts by the Biden administration to develop guidelines for coronavirus vaccination passports that businesses can use to determine who can safely participate in activities such as flights, concerts and indoor dining.

The issue has received an increasing amount of attention from some of the party’s most extreme members and conservative media figures, but it has also been seized on by Republican leaders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate.

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Monday. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.”

Fox News, particularly Tucker Carlson, is covering this, not the Derek Chauvin Trial. It sends the right message:

Other Republicans have used more inflammatory rhetoric, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) calling the passport idea “Biden’s Mark of the Beast” and some conservative activists comparing it with Nazi policies to identify Jews.

And of course this was inevitable:

“There’s been this pent-up opposition to lockdowns and mask mandates and so this is building on that,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “Now there’s this suggestion that if you don’t get a vaccine, you might not be able to do – we’re not quite sure what. I can see how there’s a market for that concern.”

The attacks also focus on an area that’s been a strength for Biden: his handling of the pandemic. Under Biden’s watch, vaccine distribution has significantly ramped up and, according to federal survey data, reports of vaccine hesitancy are decreasing. Covid-19 deaths have also plummeted from January highs, in part because larger portions of older Americans have been inoculated.

Biden is making them look bad. This is their answer:

Paul Matzko, a historian and author of “The Radio Right,” a volume on how the conservative movement grew via talk radio, said a Democrat in the White House typically coincides with conspiracy theories growing on the right.

The current fervor over a vaccine passport feeds into existing conservative narratives that Democratic administrations try to track and control the population.

“This is a very old concern – this idea of globalized elites with a sinister plan for the world who are going to take away American sovereignty,” Matzko said.

“They want us to be seen, we can’t escape them, we have a mark, whether it is a passport, or a chip or a bar code,” Matzko added, explaining the various manifestations of this theory. “It’s kind of outlandish.”

It’s the Protocols of the Elders of Zion again – that damned cabal of Jewish bankers and the Illuminati and whatnot – but it does fire up the base. But don’t blame the Rothschild family and that crowd. Paul Waldman notes this:

In Israel, where over half the population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, people are eagerly going back to restaurants, gyms and theaters. In many cases, all they need to do is flash a “green pass,” also called a vaccine passport (you can get it on paper or on your smartphone) and they’re free to do almost all the things they haven’t been able to do for the past year.

People there seem to love it. The European Union is also planning to create a vaccine passport to enable travel between countries.

Now, a vaccine passport might be coming to the United States. And conservatives are up in arms at this supposedly terrifying new threat to the freedom they always believe is moments away from being stolen from them.

Their worry may be premature:

As of now, multiple private and nonprofit organizations and coalitions are working to develop standards that a passport could use. The administration is trying to coordinate these efforts, but if a passport comes to fruition it “will be driven by the private sector,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Ours will more be focused on guidelines that can be used as a basis.”

That in itself makes it a challenge, since the utility of a passport would depend on its being simple and universally available. If there were a dozen different kinds of passports, it would make it harder for businesses to use them to screen customers.

So it’s too soon to know what such a system would look like, even if it did manage to get up and running.

But that doesn’t matter:

“Proposals like these smack of 1940s Nazi Germany. We must make every effort to keep America from becoming a ‘show your papers society,’” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), drawing on his deep knowledge of Nazi Germany. Because flashing your smartphone on the way into a movie is just like the Holocaust, apparently.

But shouldn’t we be worried about privacy? Wouldn’t it be “a massive bio-surveillance system,” in the words of one conservative columnist? The truth is that the privacy implications of vaccine passports are somewhat larger than zero, but way, way smaller than plenty of other intrusions on privacy that almost all of us accept every day.

First, it seems that the primary information contained within whatever system got established would essentially be a binary, zero-one piece of data, saying only whether you have been vaccinated. It wouldn’t monitor where you’ve been or what you’ve done.

And if you’re worried about your movements being tracked, I have some very bad news about that phone in your pocket.

Sure, and there’s this:

This is coercive, some will say. There are places I wouldn’t be able to go unless I were vaccinated! That’s true – although in many cases, it would probably mean you wouldn’t be able to go there unless you put on a mask, which is exactly what you have to do now.

And we coerce people all the time, especially when we’ve decided it’s necessary to keep them from hurting others. Forcing you to take a driving test before you get a license – and forcing you to carry that license in case a law enforcement official wants to see it – is coercive. But we do it. We force children to get a range of vaccines before they’re allowed to attend school with other children.

Conservatives, furthermore, are happy to require people to show a very specific ID before they’re allowed to vote.

So now, what’s the big deal? This isn’t a big deal:

So if I’m a restaurant owner, should I have the right to say, “Since we’re still in a pandemic, for the next six months I’m only allowing in-person dining for those who have been vaccinated”? If you cry, “But you’re infringing on my freedom!”, I’d respond that you’re free to refuse the vaccine (or to get takeout), but I’m also free to make sure my restaurant is safe for my customers and staff.

And yes, in the short term, life could become more pleasant for those who have been vaccinated, granting them privileges not available to the refusers. Which is exactly the point.

And is this the reckoning the nation is facing? No, that’s paying out in a courtroom in Minneapolis. This is just deeply unserious nonsense from a political party, and many of its leaders, soon to disappear. The rest of the nation needs to get to work.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Choosing the Reckoning

  1. Rick says:

    “Other Republicans have used more inflammatory rhetoric, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) calling the passport idea “Biden’s Mark of the Beast” and some conservative activists comparing it with Nazi policies to identify Jews.”

    “Mark of the Beast”? First of all, isn’t a “beast” considered any animal life form except human being?

    For example, I own two adorable dogs and one not-so-adorable cat, but the only mark these beasts ever made was on the carpet, which they don’t do that anymore because they’re housebroken. Unless she’s talking about all that Revelations “666” nonsense, but nobody but propeller-heads believes that these days anyway.

    And ignoring the fact that it hasn’t been acceptable for decades to use Nazi references in argument, I don’t recall any Nazi policy of identifying Jews as the people carrying paperwork proving they’ve been vaccinated. And why would they anyway? Is there a chance we’re going a bit overboard on this stuff? In our haste to find something to obsess over in otherwise boring times, aren’t we aiming at the wrong direction?

    (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

    You would think anyone seriously concerned that we might end up treating people the way the Nazis did would stop worrying about all that silly end-times trivia and would instead direct their concerns to thugs knocking down and kicking Asians on the sidewalks of America, or to officers of the law disproportionately mistreating (and some times even killing) Black people, and too often getting away with it.

    If you’re looking for a “Mark of a Beast” in America, you’d surely find it a lot quicker if you were to just look in the right places.

    For example, just watch CNN’s coverage of the trial in Minneapolis. That should get your blood boiling.

    Rick

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