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Racial Matters

The Toughest Thing to Stomach in the George Floyd Murder

Many of us were hugely relieved, and encouraged, that a jury convicted former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin of murder. 

There were, of course, many things about the case that inspired upset and disgust, starting with the nearly nine minutes of torture that ended George Floyd's life.

But beyond that, the toughest thing for me to stomach was the effort by the Minneapolis Police Department in the hours immediately after the murder to lie about what happened to Floyd last May. Shortly after Floyd died, but before the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck became public, the department put out a blatantly misleading statement about Floyd's death: "Man dies after medical incident during police interaction," read the heading. Here's what else it said:

"May 25, 2020 (MINNEAPOLIS) On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.
"Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
"At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident."
Had there been no one recording the actual event, as 17-year-old Darnella Frazier was doing, that press release could well have been the end of the story, with Floyd presumed dead from a "medical incident" (assumed to be caused by drugs) and Chauvin continuing on his merry way as a police officer, brutalizing other accused offenders who somehow irritated him.
Of course, Chauvin wasn't alone, and that is key. Other sanitized reports have undoubtedly been issued in countless other cases where accused offenders of color died under questionable circumstances. How many? We'll never know, but it has to be hundreds, or even thousands, if you realize that this practice goes back decades, in dozens of urban areas. I know from my research on Gouster Girl, which includes an incident of police abuse, that if family members tried to challenge such inaccurate reports, they would be rebuffed. The cop's story was always believed, no matter what. As Peter, Paul and Mary put it in their 1960s protest song, "Blowin' in the Wind": "How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died?"

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