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Lessons from George Floyd unintentional killing

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NEW YORK, NY – JULY 13: A mural painted by artist Kenny Altidor depicting George Floyd is unveiled on a sidewall of CTown Supermarket on July 13, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough New York City. George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis and his death has sparked a national reckoning about race and policing in the United States. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

The killings of African Americans in the United States by police officers have become so irrational that one attributes such experiences more to xenophobia than racism.

The recent killing of George Floyd will be widely acclaimed as the first of its kind: Floyd was strangled and the painful process of dying unfolded before our eyes. It was Mayday for him and the onlookers whose voices trailed off apologetically before the white officers, but no help came Floyd’s way.

That process was reminiscent of Eric Garner, another African American, who was choked to death by a villainous police officer Daniel Pantaleo on a sordid Thursday, the seventeenth of July 2014 in New York City and the suspicious suicide of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in her jail room.

Insofar as there is a war of supremacy between the African Americans and the whites, and the latter continue to be on their high horse, asserting their superiority – in actions and utterances– before the former, the wanton killings of African Americans since the slave trade era will always portray the white people as racists.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin was born on February and shot dead on the twenty-sixth of February 2012 by George Zimmerman, who was not convicted; Amadou Diallo was shot forty-one times by four police officers, who were not charged to court; fifty rounds were fired at Sean Bell by police officers, who were acquitted; Alton Sterling, a CDs seller, was shot at close range by police officers, who were not charged; then there were two other heroines: Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor, and a score more of heroes. For the African Americans or concerned persons of the mixed-race around the globe, all these killings and manslaughter are murder and homicide; more premeditated than unintentional, more designed than accidental. Although no amount of apology or weeks of protests will erase the grisly killing of Floyd from his family’s memory, I am of the view that Floyd’s death was avoidable. A couple of moral lessons can be learnt from that incident.

First, from a moral perspective, Floyd was culpable for tendering a twenty-dollar counterfeit (culpable only if the allegation is not an afterthought or a frame-up either by the police or grocery owner to paint him Blacker and justify his killing). The accusation against him, though inconsequential, raises questioning eyebrows at his character: What did he do for a living? What were his records like? Was George Floyd ever a happy man with deep pockets? Was that the first time he had spent a fictitious dollar note? Are the present socio-economic realities of his country the culprit? Plato, an ancient philosopher, maintains ‘a virtue-based eudaemonistic concept of ethics’ (see Google). Plato believes that happiness or wellness (eudaimonia) is a thin thread that knits together moral thought and behaviour, and the virtues, which he calls aretê: ‘excellence’, are the basic characteristics that a man needs in order to achieve this. The foregoing postulation will be debated in the US law court if hearings on George Floyd killing are called for.

Secondly, to be obedient and submissive pays. Floyd apparently flew in the face of the US law. His being stiff-necked made Derek Chauvin pin his neck. Derek Chauvin is not a murderer but manslaughter nor can his deed be classified as a murder or homicide. Racism apart, the US police are not trained to murder or hurt unarmed civilians. The age-long hostility and distrust between the African Americans and the whites must always trigger tensions and rancour. From Las Vegas to Bronx and West Side to South Jamaica, it is stories of Blacks’ aggression, crime and violence that one hears. Coke, weed, crack, etc. If Floyd had immediately gone with the officers to the station, he would have lived to ascertain the symptoms of COVID-19 which he tested positive for, according to an autopsy report submitted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The unexpected death that resulted from Derek Chauvin’s careless handling of Floyd tells us how delicate the human’s life is. It was not the officers’ plan to wilfully terminate Floyd’s life considering the open environment and the videos. The furious officers found Floyd really refractory. Consequently, they wanted to subdue him in order to facilitate his transit to the station. None of the officers threw punches at Floyd neither did he. In order to convince the public there were no fisticuffs, Derek Chauvin kept his left fist in his left pocket as conspicuous as possible throughout the neck-pinning process. Floyd’s bleeding nose was the damage caused to his carotid arteries.

The killing has its attendant health hazards. With social distancing norms totally ignored during the protests in different parts of the US, five in hundred risks coming down with COVID-19 that is already ravaging the country. The densely crammed, sprawling protesters were fumigated with tear gas, impacting harmfully on their respiratory tracts. Scampering for safety, many removed their face masks: they coughed and sneezed repeatedly while their droplets suspended in the air. In a way, the mistake of one man (i.e. Derek Chauvin) is going to create a vicious circle of crises in which the protesters themselves will be enmeshed.

The US is going through hard times and the fact that President Donald Trump is up to his eyebrows in stress cannot be overemphasized: the ruckus stirred up in Minneapolis is largely felt; it is COVID-19 with its harshest toll; Iran–US-China threats; the White House in–house conflict; threats of a clampdown on social media; border wall project; November re-election bid. President Donald Trump is xenophobic and racist to the eye of many, especially the African Americans –I will not jump on the bandwagon. His decision to send in troops to the scenes of the protests (although controversial) underscores his primary duty of protecting the US and its people. More so, he will not look on while COVID-19 atrophies the US economy. Whether the President is a racist, feminist, gynandrist or not, he his good even though his offering the African-American Alicia Watkins a job on the twenty-first of March 2020 in Washington and other African Americans, jobs may be a strategy to curry favour with the African–American community regarding November 2020 presidential election.

In conclusion, I will not subscribe to the view that officer Derek Chauvin is a murderer, as widely propagated by people. He is a law-abiding citizen living in a country where the safety of its residents is his task. Floyd and Derek once worked in a bar; past grudges (if there were any) never called for retaliation. What happened in May was an avoidable error which any other person can commit. On sober reflection, Derek will not believe his action. He need not be relieved of his job and his wife ought not to have divorced him. The world should forgive the officers involved in the accident while the US adequately compensates Floyd’s family, immortalises the hero and places every member of his family on life salary. Derek Chauvin and his colleagues should, as a matter of fact, be elevated in ranks for performing their primary duties.

Sola wrote from Port Harcourt.


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