Judith Brown
Judith Brown
Young enough not to quit and old enough to know better.

Dying in custody for $20: a Law Enforcement walk of shame

I never understood why US Law Enforcement is so compelled to escalate rather than diffuse situations. Having lived in Germany for 35 years, and having known many polizei, the difference between a US cop and a German cop are staggering.  That is not to say that German cops are less efficient or complacent, but that they seem to differentiate better between essential and mundane.  The latest death of Mr. George Floyd, a man who died in custody of Minneapolis police officers, brings to the fore front the inefficiency of some US police departments. The rapid escalation of Mr. Floyd’s arrest and death is a good example of Law Enforcement gone bad.

According to USA Today (May 29, 2020), Mr. Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a local store; Cup Foods. The store keeper allegedly reported the suspect, and police intercepted Mr. Floyd in a vehicle occupied by two other individuals.  Police Officers Thomas K. Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng were the first officers on the scene.  Officer Lane approached armed, but holstered his gun when Mr. Floyd cooperated. According to Officer Lane, when he was cuffing Mr. Floyd, the latter allegedly became “compliant” and rolled down on the ground complaining of claustrophobia. Because of his behaviour, both cops  allegedly asked Mr. Floyd if he was high on drugs.

When Officers Chauvin and Thao arrived on the scene, they alleged that Mr. Floyd resisted arrest and refused to get into their squad car. This was the beginning of the end. Officer Derek Chauvin grabbed Mr. Floyd out of the squad car and proceeded to drop him to the ground where he detained him by placing his knee on his neck.  Chauvin kept the neck grip even after Mr. Floyd complained that he was getting short of breath. Officer Chauvin kept that grip for eight minutes and 46 seconds, at which point Mr. Floyd eventually stopped breathing.  Officer Thao tried to tell Chauvin that Mr. Floyd was having trouble breathing and that maybe they should turn him on his side. Mr. Chauvin ignored the recommendation. Even after Mr. Floyd stopped breathing and pronounced dead, Officer Chauvin found it necessary to keep his knee in a grip on Mr. Floyd’s neck for another two minutes and 53 seconds.  According to USA Today (May 29, 2020), Minneapolis allows neck restraint, but not the one used by Officer Chauvin. How convenient.

Mr. Floyd had history of heart condition which caused the shortness of breath during the neck restraint. He was also trying to start a new life in Minneapolis. Mr. Floyd was not a stranger to Law Enforcement or incarceration. He had a past in Texas. In 2007, he held a gun to a woman’s stomach in a home invasion robbery where he demanded money and drugs. He was incarcerated until 2014 for this crime. Mr. Floyd’s criminal record dates back to 1997.  Mostly petty drug and gun possession charges. When released in 2014, he moved to Minneapolis and found a job as security guard in a nightclub. There are no criminal records after his release.  He was trying hard to turn his life around. None of the cops that apprehended him knew of his criminal record.

The events on Memorial Day substantiate an overaction response by Minneapolis Law Enforcement.  We should all be asking ourselves: why should a $20 bill cause a man’s life?  Did the cops really need back up to “apprehend” a $20 felon?  This is not the first instance of elevated responses by US Law Enforcement.  Police chases are common in the US and often  end up tragically.  In the case of Mr. Floyd; the first reaction was to draw a gun on a man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. An absurd reaction to a misdemeanor. It is true that cops in the US have been subject to being shot at close range while stopping traffic violators; but should they always assume that every one is a crazy gun toting citizen?

I have known and spoken with many German polizei  throughout the years.  They do not give chase or engage the mundane, they take pictures and send a whopping bill, and if unresponsive, they will deduct points and eventually take licenses away. Autobahn chases are rare. German polizei don’t find it compelling or necessary to chase someone because of a burnt out tail light.  Such violations are fined.  Polizei are armed but they are trained to determine what requires force and what requires a ticket.  Even if Mr. Floyd had really passed or tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, a fine would have been sufficient.  Yet, two cop cars fully armed were called to the scene to apprehend. What training manual gives such response credence?

German polizei stop and control vehicles on roads, mostly those which do not adhere to safety regulations.  Not stopping for a polizei is not a good idea, but very rarely has it been hazardous to one’s health.  In Germany, it is very rare that apprehending a felon results in death unless the perpetrator was armed and dangerous.  And that is what differentiates responses: danger.  How dangerous was Mr. Floyd to society that required un-holstered guns and back up?

The issue goes beyond Mr. Floyd being African American, I think Officer Chauvin felt comfortable treating all his suspects with contempt; it’s who he is. Officer Chauvin felt compelled to pin Mr. Floyd to the ground for an offense that should have been given a warning and a fine.  Obviously, Officer Chauvin was comfortable in his actions because his knee remained on Mr. Floyd’s neck long after the latter ceased to breathe.  Mr. Floyd was not armed or dangerous which makes the course of action taken by all four cops not only unnecessary but insidiously criminal.

US Law Enforcement needs to take a page out of the polizei’s Playbook; if it’s not a matter of life or death it’s not imminent danger.  It should be solved in other ways.  Germany has had its share of shootings and riots, but they seem to be handled with more finesse.  We have  witnessed polizei cordoning off protestors and moving simultaneously with them to minimize harm to bystanders and collateral damage to property.  When they anticipate trouble, hundreds of polizei cars and motorcycles line city streets as a presence rather than a confrontation. They show force without engagement and control crowds with strategic nuance. They are also approachable.

Admittingly so, a cop in the US does not have an easy job.  Every morning he leaves his or her front door not knowing if they will return for dinner. Every day they face the unknown and often death.  Long gone are the days when they only carried a stick and respect.  Now they are distrusted, especially in poor ethnic neighborhoods.  Mr. Floyd is a good example of their presence gone bad.  Prejudice is also a factor in many cases of cop calls going bad. Why did the shopkeeper call the cops?  Did he have a history of customers trying to pass on fraudulent bills? Did he call them because Mr. Floyd was black? Would he have called the cops had Mr. Floyd been blond and blue eyed? Speculation at this point because nobody asked the shopkeeper to comment.

Officer Chauvin’s actions are disturbing because he readily succumbed to his instincts to use unprecedented force. I doubt that had Mr. Floyd not been black, Officer Chauvin would have acted differently.  According to the Star Tribune (June 1, 2020), Officer Chauvin is not new to misconduct complaints.  In 19 years as a cop, he’s had 15 misconduct complaints against him.  Allegedly, they were “not sustainable”.  Records are sealed. However, according to a former owner of the El Nuevo Rodeo, a Minneapolis dance club where Chauvin worked for 16 years, Chauvin was prone to “lose it” and customers complained.  A loose cannon with pent up issues allowed to remain a cop. How dumb is that?

As of today, Officer Chauvin is charged with Third Degree Murder and Manslaughter.  His buddies have all disappeared to include his partner, Officer Tou Thao, who rode with him and whose lawyer refuses to divulge his whereabouts.  Officer Thomas Lane who was the first cop on the scene and approached Mr. Floyd with a gun, is nowhere to be found. J. Alexander Kueng who helped pin Mr. Floyd to the ground while Chauvin restrained him, is staying with family in parts unknown.  I am sure all three will plea bargain if charged and sing against Chauvin like proverbial canaries. Chauvin’s wife filed for divorce. Allegedly, Officer Chauvin is on suicide watch.

The death of George Floyd is a stain on US Law Enforcement.  It will eventually be politicized and milked to the extent that promises will be made but fewer  kept. It was a death that defied reason and morality.  It was permitted through the apathy of the Minneapolis Police Department who knew they had a hot head on their force, and by the other three police officers who went along with his sordid actions.  Evil does not start to describe it. Putting all in perspective; Mr. Floyd died in custody for a $20 bill.

Hauck. G, Culver. J. (May 29, 2020) USA Today. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/29/george-floyd-criminal-complaint-against-derek-chauvin/5286757002/

Dailymail.Com Reporter. (May 28, 2020) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8366533/George-Floyd-moved-Minneapolis-start-new-life-released-prison-Texas.html

Bjorus. J. (June 1, 2020) StarTribune. https://www.startribune.com/a-deeper-look-at-the-four-officers-fired-after-george-floyd-death/570885592/

About the Author
Judith was born in Malta but is also a naturalized American. Former military wife (23 years), married, and currently retired from the financial world as Bank Manager. Spent the last 48 years associated or working for the US forces overseas. Judith has a blog on www.judith60dotcom Judith speaks several languages and is currently learning Hebrew.