SOLIDARITY ON SATURDAY: Show Your Support. No Justice, No Peace.
Around THE NATION and THE WORLD Huge Rallies of Protest Against Racial Injustice are occurring. Please show your support and outrage in ways that you feel safe. Here in Columbus, Ohio, rally and march at Statehouse 10 am.
These are hard times.
Worldwide Pandemic. The Covid Virus causes over 100,000 deaths in a three month period in the U.S. Significant and justified societal shutdown as response to halt or slow the transmission. It’s a nasty, vicious illness to have, in many cases, even if you do survive. Fear. I’m frightened that I may die: I’m fairly old; I have poor lungs. I’m an asthmatic—I know what it is like to not breath! Each day about 30 to 40 people die here in Ohio from Covid. Yes, this is very, very, bad.
Add Donald Trump is president, with his divisiveness, arrogance, boorishness, incompetence and narcissism. He is totally unable to lead us in any time of significant need. He is part of any problem, not part of its solution. And his supporters are almost as bad, some even worse. They carry Assault Rifles at our Ohio Statehouse and shout at our sincere and conscientious Governor that he is a tyrant and like a Nazi !
Racism. In early May, a young black man is chased down by two or three white men with a rifle in Brunswick, Georgia. They think he is involved in robbery. His mother says he was jogging in his neighborhood. They go vigilante on him. In a struggle captured on video, Ahmaud Arbery is shot to death. For two months, no charges were filed by authorities.
George Floyd. Monday, in Minneapolis Minnesota, May 25, Memorial Day — the day Americans are to honor soldiers who gave their life to preserve our country and its values — a video captures a police officer casually kneeling (hands in pocket) on a man’s throat. The video does not show two other officers, hidden by a police cruiser, holding Floyd down, one on his back, one on his legs. It is reported that he was in handcuffs. In the video Floyd is not moving, though in some versions he is heard to say, “I can’t breath.” The official police report times the restraint to have been about 8 minutes. One autopsy has stated that Floyd was dead on the scene, asphyxiation; the official autopsy is much more evasive. In the video, the restraint is shown ending with Floyd being rolled over onto a stretcher by these officers. He appears limp and lifeless.
The situation starts to explode. Thursday, two days after the murder, the videos have gone viral. Photos appear in all the major news outlets. Protests and demonstrations are occurring 25 or more cities around the U.S. As evening comes, some of them become violent.
Here in Columbus Ohio, The Police initially took a very poor approach to the protesters. They lined up in full riot gear in tactical formation, barriers in place, as if the demonstrators had to be confined and mistrusted from the start. All accounts that I have seen agree that all was very peaceful initially, then this starts to change. Two thousand demonstrators were on hand, it was estimated; my youngest daughter was there. Yes, some cops were being shouted at over the barriers at close quarters. Some water bottles were thrown at them from afar.
Bad decisions were made by police commanders on the scene. The corner of Broad Street and High Street is the center of our town. The state Capital Building stands there and just several miles up High is the huge Ohio State University campus. The intersection and Capital grounds is where most demonstrations happen. Commanders decided not to allow protesters in the street; they then tried to block several crosswalks at that intersection. Tensions rose, and videos and photos then show some individual cops starting to lash out. They pushed back, poked it the face, demonstrators in their face. More was now thrown at them, including rocks. Some officers started spraying pepper spray, and this very indiscriminately. The crowd started to break up as chaos enveloped. Various small groups of then broke off and started smashing windows, starting some fires, some looting of stores. Most just tried to remain peaceful, helpful, or leave. At least, this is the best I can make of it.
That was Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday night some of our local leaders were there; sadly, some were not. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, City Counselmen Shannon Harden and County Commissioner Kevin Boyce were there and tried to calm both police and demonstrators, and got pepper sprayed amidst the outburst. All are black, and it is worth noting that the demonstrators were clearly of all color. Our Mayor, Democrat Michael Ginther, was no where in sight until Sunday. Nor was the Police Chief Quinlin. Both are white. Beatty, Harden and Boyce all stated that the city police overreacted. Ginther tweeted a similar opinion.
On Sunday, the situation changed dramatically. Police adopted a new and less aggressive posture. It worked. Demonstrations started and stayed peaceful. Police were no longer standing in formation forebodingly in full riot gear. Demonstrators were allowed to ‘take’ the intersection and traffic was diverted. The Mayor marched with the people and police cars escorted the marchers as if a parade. (Though recently I have read a brief conflicting account that concerned late Sunday night.) Monday was similarly approached and equally peaceful.
Gaining a reasonable understanding of events, in some ways, has been difficult. I have stayed a away from the protests because I have a history of lung issues and am in my later 60’s. I do not want to die of this virus. I have marched with Black Lives Matter, in past years. But what is perfectly clear and evident from the video of the death, is the restraint should have stopped long before it was. American police officers are not judge, jury, and executioner. George Floyd was immobilized, rendered harmless, and in custody; he should not have died!
And this is where we start to seek to understand Why He Did. Why was that choke-hold, knee applied to the throat, an authorized tactic? Apparently it was. Why did none of the other three officers —now also charged with abetting in the crime — insist on its cessation? One apparently did ask, twice, if it was time “to roll him over” and Chauvin said “No”, Meaning continue.
Chauvin, himself, was a 19 year member of the Minneapolis police force, and in that time had received 18 complaints against his conduct (a high number in the opinion of some police-watchers) that resulted in two reprimands (no specifics are public), but also received two commendations. He has been involved in at least three acts of serious violence (now four) of which two involved discharging his weapon and the third was an auto chase that resulted in the deaths of two bystanders killed when their car was struck by the fleeing vehicle. In the shootings, one involved several other offices and was ruled “justified use of force” and resulted in the death of the suspect. The other resulted in injury and, in the account I read, it’s victim —the perpetrator in a domestic violence incident — challenged Chaivin’s account of events contending Chauvin unjustly shot him. At least, one other complaint was for language and behavior demeaning to a suspect.
A limited amount of information is available about the Floyd incident itself. Hopefully, this will soon change. Several accounts I have seen say a 911 call came in reporting an attempted use of a counterfeit bill at a convenience store and a man outside that store who was acting erratically. A description of that man was given, and one report said that Floyd “fit that description.” Chauvin and the other three officers responded to the call.
That is all I can find about the origin of the incident. Though it should again be noted, however this incident started, that restraint went on too long. It killed Floyd when he was already securely in police custody. And, from the manner of former officer Chauvin, as caught on that video, his casual application of that degree of force seemed cold and calculated. The official County Autopsy does find both fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, though that would not seem relevant to the excessive use of force at that point in the restraint. More information to come on this, I assume. There is also a strange fact, very recent, that Floyd and Chauvin may have known each other from a night club at which each worked.
“Meanwhile”, as as Stephan Colbert used to say, back here in Columbus, only a few FACTS are crystal clear. That the Columbus Police, and especially their commanders, committed various inappropriate, ineffective and excessive acts and decisions involving use of force, seems to me indisputable. I thought they would, at this point in time, have done better. Maybe I am naive to believe that.
At a social-distanced backyard get-together, several days ago, I was ‘called out’ for defending the police especially by several younger members of the gathering. I mention age because it was Quite A Role Reversal for me. I have almost always been farthest to “the left” in most political discussion. Now, to find myself being told that, “I know, it’s hard to reconsider your long-held beliefs” by someone not even half my age and with not that much experience — goodness, I was alive and participated in some of the initial events in the Open Housing Movement and School Desegregation in the mid-1960’s — well, I had to try to sit calmly and hold my tongue. It reminded me of my father saying to me in about 1968 when I was a teenager, “Ever since you’ve read a couple of paperback books, you think you know everything!” I did not want to say that to them.
But I do want to end this long post, with an additional insight I believe I’ve gained. I was skeptical of some of the opinions of some of members of that gathering. It seemed to me they had been swept up in the frenzy of the moment and made some claims against the police that turned out to not be accurate, as I had suggested at the time.
One claim was that some Columbus cops had deliberately taped over their badge numbers to avoid identification. I said that if so, they, and any supervisor that knew of such practice, should be immediately disciplined. It turned out that the riot gear is old and has no badge on it; the tape stripes were to identify units and ranks.
There was a claim that police provocateurs were hidden in the crowd and secretly led the initiation of property damage. Associated with this was the claim that outsiders were involved, “Anarchists”, which led to a disagreement about what an anarchist even was these days. No facts have come forth to substantiate hidden police agents or anarchists, nor even much of an involvement by anybody other than Ohioans and mostly central Ohioans as demonstrators.
Finally, there was a video I was shown were the video-taker eventually came to believe that she had evidence of police rioting, breaking windows. I said “Please, I really hope not.” I was shown the video, and frankly could not see anything definitive, but her conclusion was clear. It turned out, apparently —because the building’s operators have rejected her interpretation– that several officers did break (more) glass to get inside and put out a mall fire that had just been started.
These are hard times. It is especially hard when Information is not clear and emotions are high. Much has been made of disinformation from “the right’, Fox News and all, but we all must carefully think through situations, talk, and try to discern what most likely happened. I have since written a short text of regret that my differences of opinion created tensions at our gathering and helped lead to a somewhat uncomfortable ending. Thankfully, they were graciously accepted. These are uncomfortable times, too.
SOLIDARITY ON SATURDAY. Participate: Show your Support for Change and Justice, in any appropriate way!