Friday 29 May 2020

Poisonous Legacy: Why George Floyd Could Be Choked While The Whole World Watched.

"I can't breathe, Mama. I'm dying." - Last words of George Floyd.

LOOK HARD at this image. Think about what it depicts. Ask yourself how one human-being could behave so brutally when so many eye-witnesses – and very soon millions of people online around the world – were there to watch him do it. Then ask yourself why he didn’t care.

In this photograph, lifted from a video taken at the scene, the Minneapolis police officer whose knee is choking the life out of George Floyd, registers the presence of witnesses with a mixture of surprise and annoyance. The fact that he is looking directly into the lens of the cellphone recording his actions – strongly suggests that he is aware of what is happening.

Most people, caught in a similarly compromising position would respond by removing their knee from the suspect’s neck. The man was in handcuffs. He posed no threat to the officer or anybody else. The witnesses present could hear the man protesting that he couldn’t breathe. So, presumably, could the officer. So, why didn’t he remove his knee? Why didn’t he stop?

Part of the answer lies in the culture of American law enforcement. In all but the smallest communities, US police officers are encouraged to view their fellow citizens as the enemy. This is true even of white citizens, who will be shown scant respect unless the socio-political context of their encounter with law enforcement, and/or their possession of all the accessories of high social status, indicate a more deferential demeanour might be in order. In the absence of these warning markers, however, blank indifference to the rights and opinions of their fellow citizens is considered mandatory. Anything less would convey an impression of softness and weakness: displays of which could quickly lead to a potentially fatal loss of police authority.

With African-Americans, the need for maximum rigor on the part of law enforcement has always been a given. On the central question of equal treatment under the law, all of American history conspires against people of colour. Their role in the development of American capitalism – and of capitalism globally – may have been crucial. One cannot picture the cotton mills of Lancashire without also picturing the cotton fields of Mississippi! But, the great tragedy of African-American history is that it is equally difficult to explain the global dominance of American capitalism without acknowledging the racial segmentation of the American working-class. With racial prejudice forever forestalling working-class unity, anti-capitalism has never found any enduring purchase on the soil of the United States.

As long ago as the 1830s it was apparent to dispassionate observers of the American Republic that “free” white American males (the only people then vested with political power) were bound to the idea of the United States with chains every bit as strong as those which burdened its black slaves. The loyalty of the poorest white farmer and/or factory worker was in large measure guaranteed by his understanding that at least two categories of human-being would always occupy a more degraded position than himself in the socio-economic hierarchy: women and blacks.

Nowhere is this crucial political understanding more clearly spelled out than in the 1857 judgement of the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger Taney, who ruled against the legal attempt by the freed slave, Dred Scott, to secure equality of treatment under the Constitution of the United States.

According to Taney:

“The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all of the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen?”

The Chief Justice’s answer was an unequivocal “No”.

“We think... that [black people] are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time [of America's founding] considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.”

Taney’s (along with six more of the nine Supreme Court justices’) judgement stated more honestly than anything written before, or since, White America’s true feelings towards Black America:

“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted.... They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order...; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

It could hardly be stated more plainly: African-Americans have no rights which the white man is bound to respect. In very large measure the American Civil War was fought to nullify Chief Justice Taney’s (himself a slaveowner) crushing judgement. And though, by the victory of the Union armies, the slaves were freed, recognised as citizens of the United States, and guaranteed the equal protection of the laws, their victory was short-lived. Barely a decade after the war’s end, the relentless roll-back of African-American rights had begun. On the ground, where it counted, most white Americans found it more expedient to enshrine the prejudices of Roger Taney than to give heed to Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels”.

It required terror, of course, this denial of African-American rights: terror and the connivance of local law enforcement. Between them, the Ku Klux Klan, the local sheriff and the officials down at the county courthouse reduced those African-Americans still living within the borders of the defeated Confederacy to a new form of servitude. It would be another 100 years before the civil rights won in the Civil War were again afforded the meaningful protection of federal authority.

Perhaps predictably, the spectacle of African-Americans reaching out to reclaim their lost political, social and economic rights struck fear into white Americans. Across the whole of America this time, the prospect of giving up their privileged status – even if its surrender would greatly enhance the ability of all Americans to pursue happiness more successfully – was enough to drive working-class whites into the arms of, first, George Wallace, then Richard Nixon, and ultimately Ronald Reagan.

Is it drawing too long a bow to suggest that in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Struggle (1954-1980) the terroristic role formerly assigned to the Ku Klux Klan was assumed by local law enforcement? The Black Lives Matter movement would not say so. If he had not been silenced forever by a Minneapolis cop, it is likely that George Floyd would not say so. Not when practically every day in the United States police officers pay deadly tribute to Chief Justice Taney’s poisonous legacy.

Demonstrably, it is the opinion of American law enforcement that African-Americans are indeed members of an inferior order. So far inferior, that they have no rights which any white police officer is bound to respect; and that African-Americans might justly and lawfully be put to death – even when the whole world is watching.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 May 2020.


Sam said...

Forgery is now a crime punishible by death.

Waits patiently for the inevitable reveal that he had an arrest back in 2009 so the officers were totally justified since he was such a hardcore criminal.

Because apparently according to officers and their unions committing any crime at any point in your life no matter how minor is grounds to be killed X amount of years later.

greywarbler said...

Thank you for this Chris. I had not seen the extracts quoted before, and now I can understand what I have seen in behaviour and attitudes of USA people. Both the Nazis and the USA are terrible examples of how we can entertain a sick society that is against all we profess to believe, and rationalise our misdemeanour; our sin if we are religious. And it must be so provoking to the white trash of the South to see how well the black Americans can do, and explain why they can find it appropriate to kill them in their own churches.

Perhaps that type of thinking explains the actions of an ordinary young white man in entering a mosque in Christchurch.

It seems hard for good to triumph, evil leaves such a powerful mantle.
William Shakespeare: 'The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.'

The good and the bad mix themselves so thoroughly in our thoughts, even
in our aspirations, that we must look for excellence rather in overcoming evil than in freeing ourselves from its influence.
Anthony Trollope

David Stone said...

There seems to be some reaction...


greywarbler said...

Do they have an SPCA in the USA? I don't think it would be acceptable to kneel on a calf's neck or some other animal that wasn't threatening to safety.

And about animals and people - the UK had an SPCA before one protecting children. NZ wouldn't have been much better.
SPCA - We were founded in a London coffee shop in 1824. The men present knew they were creating the world's first animal welfare charity, but they couldn't have imagined the size and shape that the charity would become today...
When we were founded, our focus was working animals, such as 'pit ponies', who were worked down the coal mines. But we've changed with the times.

During the First and Second World Wars we worked to help the millions of animals enlisted to serve alongside British, Commonwealth and Allied forces. And, our work with pets that we're best known for today, only developed with the trend to keep them.

(Children were employed down mines also from a young age.)

Child protection
The first act of parliament for the prevention of cruelty to children, commonly known as the "children's charter" was passed. This enabled British law to intervene, for the first time, in relations between parents and children. Police could arrest anyone found ill-treating a child and obtain a warrant to enter a home if a child was thought to be in danger. The act also included guidelines on the employment of children and outlawed begging.
and - 1908

Archduke Piccolo said...

It has been well said, that a people who label themselves 'civilized' are not prone to hold themselves to the same standard they demand and expect from others. They don't even recognise that perhaps they ought to set an example, rather than lay down rules that others, not themselves, are to follow.

Which is why the United States feels itself entitled to lecture others on human rights. That is why the United States, neck-deep in the swamplands of duplicity and corruption, still imagines itself to be occupying the moral high ground.

John Hurley said...

That policeman achieved nothing so it is hard to ascribe any sort of motive other than he was either a psychopath or just very stupid? He is now a celebrated figure of the left like the letter writer (whoever it was) in Ponsonby?

John Hurley said...

Greywarbler you are just talking trash about good and bad society. We are a primate species and we judge who is us and who isn't, "Us" are people we can rely on. Blacks look on whites the same way. You may learn to trust individuals but ethnocentrism is (likely) the rule not the exception.

John Hurley said...

Police shoot white man in back ..... crickets

David Stone said...

Quite noticeably the police in the US are behaving toward the people in a manner that mirrors the way the US behaves toward the rest of the world. Not very surprising considering that a large proportion of the police forces are made up of returned servicemen who are just carrying on the same work in the same way they are used to doing overseas.
It is also entirely unsurprising that many of the ordinary people , black and white you will notice if you look, are fed up with it. Just like the rest of the world is getting fed up with it.
Respect for government and the law. for the law makers and the law enforcers is at a state of decadence that might make governance no longer viable. This lack of respect is well earned as far as I can see and it is hard to imagine it being recovered in the foreseeable future with Mt Trump threatening "when the looting starts the shooting starts".
The US was not prepared for a financial collapse , was not prepared for a pandemic, and it sure as hell is not prepared for a civil war, but it might be getting one started.

Anonymous said...

" You may learn to trust individuals but ethnocentrism is (likely) the rule not the exception."

82% of ethnocentrism is learned according to the Minnesota twin study. So at least 82% of this above is bullshit.

J E Routhan said...

It was interesting to read your commentary and information, I agree, I also have a copy of People's History of USA' someone on THe Daily Blog commented about.

However I wonder where the commentary is about the abuses of NZ police power and the power of those in the mental health and health sector to terrorise and kill someone in New Zealand. Does the method of killing make a difference, the violence involved, the cruelty? I've seen one of those police dog programmes with a suicidal woman curled up in a ball near a fence being terrorised by police dog and our media and others used it as entertainment.

Does driving someone to suicide by being psychologically abusive and terrorising them for years on end count? I'm an activist not a criminal, have been for years, to get the ACC care I am entitled to under law I was forced into a secure mental health unit and had no option but to stay for three months. While I got locked down, not long after so did the rest of NZ, but what they did to PEOPLE in that place was far beyond what they are legally allowed to.

Staff used to be sarcastic and laugh if you mentioned the District Inspector or management or HDC, HRC etc. The disturbed behaviour of staff and especially management was INSANE. Nobody is ever punished or sacked or anything in that place, management choose their friends and those staff who suck up to them for different shifts. We have far higher rates of suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, domestic violence and homelessness in New Zealand compared with USA, but our commentators ignore it and never ask why.

What happened with this case is happening in NEw Zealand, including with the police, IPCA are grossly corrupt, bringing in young Sth African ex police officers to work there, when there are 100s of ex-police officers who would relish the opportunity to get back some of the corrupt, violent cruel cops in this country.

Abuse victims with useless families and denied ACC treatment care rehabilitation and housing (as required under the law) seem to be the targets in New Zealand. We don't have the same issues based on colour of your skin, Maori only appear more in the figures because more of them are poor. Saying its a racial issue is ridiculous. I'm a 55 yr old Pakeha woman who legally and non-violently protests I got violently assaulted by a Maori officer, while two Sth African immigrants stood back watching to start with, then participated verbally. I live in the region with the highest rate of suicide in New Zealand. I live in the region with a long history of police brutality, as the inquality here is rampant. All the private schools and old money, people who make sure the disabled and poorest have less than any other region.

Wish I could say more but I'm too terrified to speak out in case they lock me up again in that Cuckoo's Nest.

greywarbler said...

John Hurley I think you are talking about the society you mix with. I choose to co-habit with people using their higher intelligence which prevents us from dwelling at a totally animal level - our intelligence is a joy and a cross we have to bear, because we can always think beyond an unseen horizon, a previously unimagined action. Unfortunately that thinking process is often not utilised to extend thinking and understanding in NZ.

Anonymous said...

"Police shoot white man in back ..... crickets"...... Because it's comparatively rare. Whites get treated with relative gentleness. Which anyone with 30 seconds to spare could find out on google.

Sam said...

American police forces are acting like paramilitaries actively flaunting the authority and legitimacy of the state and Federal Government. Any government that fails to respond to such a brazen challenge to its legitimacy risks losing their own right to rule.

Bluntly, governments have to call in the military, start busting up big city Police Departments as an example, and show law enforcement officers that they enforce the laws, not their manchildren fantasies. No violence, just roll the damn tanks in front of all precincts and order the cops out. Nothing short will cure this embarrassment of global policing and revolting crimes.

The Barron said...

American Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote 'American Slavery, American Freedom' where he was able to show how Virginians drafted the Declaration of Independence,the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, while enslaving 20% of the population. How Virginia provided the presidency for thirty-two of the first thirty-six years of the United States, all slave holders. He investigates the central paradox of the marriage of slavery and freedom in America. How the rich required slavery, and the rich always commanded the poor. The move from European poor immigrants as indentured labour, to supporting the kidnap and enslavement of those from Africa.
Trump's MAGA is simply a revision of the rich and powerful using a faction of the working -class 'white' poor to consolidate inequity in resources and civil rights.
Only a week ago, Trump referred to Henry Ford (a eugenicist, racist, anti-Semite Nazi sympathizer) as 'good blood'. Less that a month ago that Trump felt he had inherited 'science genes' from his Uncle and gained a greater insight into viruses than professionals.
When you have a eugenicist in the White House, it is inevitable that health resources do not reach those excluded by the concept of race, that the economic burdens of a crisis will disproportionately impact those seen as minorities and dis-empowered, and that a public display of lethal violence will spark protest.
Biden repeated the phrase that slavery is America's original sin. My reading goes further, African-Americans are excluded from the 'American Dream' because the nation state was designed and formed on the basis of exclusion. America had a civil war, and then regressed back to suppression, America had a civil rights movement, but never dealt with the poverty and vulnerability in the communities.
The GOP has responded to the demographic changes by suppressing votes and empowering the wealthy. The eugenicists, popularists, and good ol' boys can not sustain the American paradox for too long, but long enough to destroy another generation.

Anonymous said...

So if your theory is correct, why is the cop charged with murder? According to you he should be feted but clearly he's not.

Barry said...

Why there has to be a demonstration in the street of New Zealand is a mystery. Yes - the sympathy is understandable but its a dangerous precedent. Its seems to me like a practice run for a police shooting in NZ - or more specifically the next police shooting of a maori.

The USA is Deeply, Deeply racist. Most people in NZ have no idea just how racist it is. Go to the South - like Louisiana - and the belief that afro-americans are second class citizens is the norm. Its irrelevant that it shouldnt be -it just is. And all those laws and programmes have really only made it worse. Its just like the political divide - deep division and they arent listening to each other. The riots and the burning building will only make it worse. They will reinforce the racist sentiment.
And the afro-americans get it easy compared to illegal Mexicans - otherwise known as 'Coons'.

The solution is very complex - but it wont be made better - and probably worse - by demonstrations in New Zealand streets.

greywarbler said...

The Chicago police shooting a white guy - link 30 May 9.17. That is an example of the rigid control that police want to impose. A terrible misdemeanour of walking from one train to another which was against a city ordinance.

I remember the item about a mother taking her son to sports practice. She was stopped and arrested for not having her seat belt done up - breaking a city ordinance-type misdemeanour. Because it was a law that could result in prison, she was taken off and held overnight. I don't know what her son thought about it and did. I think she was white, but in this type of harrassing of the public, any lower-class citizen would be fair game. It is just that racism makes harrassment over minor matters more likely, but not exclusive to coloured people.

Andrew Nichols said...

"Anything less would convey an impression of softness and weakness: displays of which could quickly lead to a potentially fatal loss of police authority".

That's what arming cops does...makes them feared authority rather than respected. I remember the amazement shown by the Aussie cop at the quiet but effective policing skills shown by kiwi cops when the former was seconded to help patrol Christchurch after the first quake.
2. "The loyalty of the poorest white farmer and/or factory worker was in large measure guaranteed by his understanding that at least two categories of human-being would always occupy a more degraded position than himself in the socio-economic hierarchy: women and blacks."

"A South politician preaches to the poor white man
"You got more than the blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you been born with white skin, " they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game" Bob Dylan - A Pawn in their Game

sumsuch said...

No legitimacy in America just full-on salesmanship (bullshit). Probably truer to the whole enterprise. Or, their rich have forgot to look after others, or have warped it into an orc majority. And nothing can be done without those two sorts.

The Barron said...

There is a Mitchell and Webb sketch which features two S.S. soldiers talking. One notices the skull and cross bones on their caps and poses the question 'does this means we're the bad guys?'
Todd Muellar's MAGA hat controversy in first week as National Party Leader showed he lacked even that level of self-awareness.
His second week in the job sees America burning. Politics is about a symbiotic relationship with people and events. Yes, Todd, they are the bad guys.

Sam said...

These people protesting/rioting are only young. They've never seen a public lynching before and I perfectly understand there reaction to having being subjected to a public lynching. Its not correct what the police do to minorities. It's team human vs racism - which side are you on?

Anonymous said...

the last few days have brought back the memories of 1968. National Guard again on the streets..."...tin soldiers & Nixon/Trump coming..." I've got Neil Young's "Ohio" in my head again. RobbieWgtn

Peter said...

The whole world didn't watch today but many witnessed something which it is recorded for posterity.

White House Press Secretary Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany spoke of looting, rioting and burning. "This is not what defines America," she said.

She extolled the importance of leadership. The gesture of her leader in front of a church , her boss was a sign of strong leadership. The Bible was a symbol. The symbolism was acknowledged to be powerful. The ground the stand was made on was gained by force and violence.

A simple gesture, wielding the power for the good of the people. It was akin to Winston Churchill in World War 2 visiting bombed areas apparently. He didn’t have to have the way cleared by uniforms and weapons.

Wielding the power for the good of the people by holding up a book this week when holding up a mask a couple of weeks back or, God forbid (pun), actually putting in on?

To introduce the theme McEnany started with "We will not be overcome..."

No doubt some oldies cringed, some maybe were angered and probably some wept at that. An anthem of our lives and what it meant in the race wars of America being contemptuously wielded, a shield to 'defend' being smashed in the face of quiet onlookers. Being used now.

"We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome, some day
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand, some day."

What defines America is Kayleigh McEnany's performance today and what it was all about.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny how the American media concentrate on "rioters" rather than the peaceful protesters. And yet in Hong Kong a crowd can beat a policeman to the ground, or set fire to a police station and still be called "protesters" by the Voice of America.

Geoff Fischer said...

It used to be that the motive for crime was of forensic interest but had no major influence on the severity of punishment. If it was proved that a crime had been committed with intent that was sufficient for a conviction, and punishment was appropriate to the severity of the offence, without appreciable regard to the motive.
Secular society has changed all that. A large group of offences, comprising the trivial to the grave, are classed as terrorism if politically motivated and subject to harsher penalties on that account.
Actions which would not normally be offences at all, such as refusing employment or accommodation to one in need, become offences if motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion or gender.
In consequence, if someone kills for the hell of it, or simply because he enjoys killing, his offence is less grave than if he kills in pursuit of some political or religious ideal (however misguided that may be).
Secular society has therefore persuaded itself that the motive matters as much as or even more than the act itself.
Would there have been such a huge international outcry if George Floyd had been killed in exactly the same manner by a black police officer? I doubt it. Yet it is the act itself that should provoke outrage, more than the thinking, sentiments or prejudices that may have motivated it, or the identity of the person responsible for the crime.
The danger is that we come to believe that brutality, cruelty and callousness are only objectionable when they are perpetrated by certain people upon certain other people for certain specified reasons. This is exactly what the rulers of the western world want us to believe. In that way callous indifference, exploitation and brutality can continue unabated just so long as they cannot be pinned down to some kind of religious, racial or gender prejudice.