Beginning in February 2012 with the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black youth killed in Sanford, FL, at the hands of George Zimmerman, a white man and self-styled neighborhood watch activist, and continuing through the August 2014 death of an 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, MO, at the hands of a 28-year-old white police officer, a cultural movement now internationally known as “Black Lives Matter,” emerged and challenged the traditional law enforcement paradigm in this country and beyond.
BLM, the acronym now synonymous with the movement, has argued since its genesis circa July 2013 that blacks – and specifically black men – are unfairly targeted by police; moreover, they posit that police officers shoot and kill black men at a disproportionate rate, seemingly without justification. While statistically difficult if not impossible to prove, BLM’s message has stirred many to action: An anti-police ethos has overtaken the media and now defines the beliefs of many in academia and even government circles.
With the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers, things began to dramatically change in support of BLM’s grievance and to the detriment of law enforcement generally. While the optics surrounding the untimely death of George Floyd are clearly troubling to the casual observer, one must examine the facts dispassionately, forensically, and legally to understand the true dynamic of what took place.
Floyd, an ex-convict, who served prison time in Texas upon conviction of a very serious, violent crime in 2007, was reportedly committing yet another crime at the time of this contact with the Minneapolis police officers on that fateful day; he also happened to be under the influence of a cocktail of recreational drugs, not the least of which, fentanyl, in and of itself has a deadly reputation. According to news reports, Officer Derek Chauvin, the police officer criminally charged with Floyd’s murder used a neck restraint as taught by his agency for subjects exhibiting signs of Excited Delirium.[i]
The Attorney General in Minnesota, Keith Ellison, himself a controversial figure cloaked in scandal and controversy, decided from the beginning that he was going to make Floyd’s death an example, and so far, he has not disappointed: AG Ellison is taking a very extraordinary path to ensure an anticipated and desired outcome in the case against Chauvin and his colleagues. You do not have to look very deep to see it: A motion filed by his office is asking the courts for enhanced sentencing against the four police officers charged in Floyds death – and they have not even been tried or adjudicated guilty yet.[ii]
According to a five-page memo filed by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Frank Matthews on behalf of Ellison’s office, the State of Minnesota sought an upward departure on sentencing for the four accused police officers. In the memo, they cited factors like the officers were “in full uniform” and, as such, “held a ‘defined relationship’ of authority over Floyd.” Moreover, they argued that the officers used this to “dominate and control” Floyd. In effect, the State is using the officers’ requisite uniform appearance and their sworn duty to act in the face of criminal activity, viz. to investigate and effect an arrest if appropriate, against the officers in court. That is a very troubling slippery slope.[iii]
Equally troubling in all this is the fact that there is a dearth of traditional forensic evidence tying these four officers to the mechanism of death in the Floyd case. Initial reports from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, indicated that “Floyd’s body showed no signs of asphyxia or strangulation” and highlighted “cardiovascular disease and ‘potential intoxicants’ in his system” as factors in his death. It was not until public opinion turned on Dr. Baker and the news media began demanding his resignation that the good doctor opined that Floyd’s heart may have arrested due to the officers’ efforts to restrain him. It was on that basis that he declared the manner of death a homicide.[iv]
Nationwide, major cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, LA, New York, and others are demanding that entire police departments be defunded or disbanded altogether. Shootings like in the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, which while tragic are well within the law, have become cause celebre and form the battle cry for BLM and some of the other spin-off groups like NFAC. Meanwhile, we are seeing violent crime in these cities spiking exponentially while police presence correspondingly diminishes.
Law enforcement, like war, does not occur in a clinical or sanitized environment. It cannot be interpreted through a Shangri-la-like filter. Criminals are by definition people who are non-compliant by nature and spurn law and order. When police are confronted with the criminal element, they do not have the choice to act or ignore: They must act; it is their sworn duty and legal obligation. They use a uniform, so as to establish their authority and credentials in the light of day. And they must logically “dominate and control” the person to be arrested depending on levels of resistance.
When the media and elements within our own government begin to legitimize what amounts to a false grievance by a small but vocal group that is guided by the emotive use of propaganda and sensationalism, we, as a nation, are on a path to chaos and anarchy. Good people in cities throughout this country are paying the very real price of increased, violent criminal activity with their lives. Innocent lives they will not get back. Meanwhile, we are pursuing a one-sided argument that has no real-world solution until all sides of the dynamic accept their role in the outcome.
– William V. Saladrigas, special agent, Florida Department of Law Enforcement; retired, Miami-Dade Police Department
[i] Melendez, P. (2020, July 8). Minneapolis PD Trained Officers to Use the Neck Restraint That Killed George Floyd: Docs. Daily Beast. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com
[ii] Olson, R. (2020, October 13). Prosecutors want stiff sentences for cops charged in George Floyd’s killing. Star Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.startribune.com
[iv] Stanley, G. (2020, June 19). George Floyd’s autopsy puts Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker in the hot seat. Star Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.startribune.com