Politics & Policy

The New George Floyd Video Should Not Surprise You

A portrait of George Floyd during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of his death, in New York City, June 8, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Floyd’s case isn’t about his resisting arrest; it’s about what happened after the cops got him under control.

This week, the Daily Mail managed to get its hands on some previously unreleased body-camera footage of George Floyd’s arrest. Some found that it changed their perception of the incident. Most notably, my former American Conservative colleague Rod Dreher wrote a lightning-rod blog post in which he contended that “George Floyd is dead today almost entirely because of George Floyd.”

The video does clarify some things, especially the precise degree to which Floyd resisted arrest. But I would urge anyone whose mind changed dramatically upon watching it to ask themselves: Why does it surprise you that Floyd resisted arrest? And why does it change your view of how the cops behaved in a completely different part of the encounter?

In reality, nothing in the video is all that unexpected, and nothing in it changes the fact that law-enforcement officers kept a handcuffed, obviously unwell man face down, with a knee on his neck, for about eight minutes, including two minutes after they failed to find a pulse. The second-degree-murder charge against Derek Chauvin is likely a stretch, as Andy McCarthy detailed back in June, but the other options available to the jury — third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — remain entirely plausible.

This all began when the police received a call alleging that Floyd had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill and seemed inebriated. In the new video, we see an officer approach Floyd’s car and rap on the driver’s-side window with a flashlight. Floyd opens the door. The officer repeatedly instructs Floyd to show his hands, but Floyd delays and argues instead, prompting the cop to draw his pistol and point it at Floyd. (If an officer asks to see your hands, he wants to make sure there isn’t a gun in them, so show him your hands.) Floyd then becomes even more agitated, and a long scene follows in which the police get Floyd out of the car, handcuff him, try to put him in a police vehicle while he resists, and then — after he says he wants to lie down — apparently start to put him on the ground. Floyd never becomes violent in the sense of directly attacking the officers, but he certainly resists arrest and acts bizarrely.

Now, until this video came out, we didn’t know for sure the extent to which Floyd resisted arrest. But the only way it could surprise you that he resisted is if you dismissed or didn’t read what the police reports said from the beginning, preferring instead to buy into other testimony that claimed he hadn’t resisted at all and the escalation of the incident was 100 percent the fault of the cops. (Even in the document that introduced a new second-degree-murder charge against Chauvin, prosecutors noted that the cops had to try to “force” Floyd into their car and that Floyd “stiffened up and fell to the ground.”) In a later post, Dreher admitted that he “didn’t go looking for” additional information about the case before. “I assumed the Narrative — white cops torture black suspect to death — was true, or mostly true. We had video, did we not?”

Uncritical acceptance of one-sided tales before all the information is available is what brought us the “hands up, don’t shoot” canard five years ago, and apparently it was widespread in the Floyd case too. In the former ordeal, the narrative obscured the fact that the shooting was outright justified. But in this one, it’s distracting us from the real issue, which is what the cops did after they got Floyd under control.

We knew what had happened during that period of time even before the new video’s release. The key facts are still the same, and thus the case against Chauvin and the other officers is still the same, too. Holding someone in a prone position, especially with pressure to the neck or chest, is well-known to be dangerous, particularly when the suspect has health problems; after using a prone restraint to gain control of a suspect, police are generally trained to move the arrestee to a “recovery position” on their side to prevent medical complications. A 2013 settlement required the Minneapolis Police Department to better educate cops about the dangers of improper restraints, and while there are conflicting accounts of how well that was implemented, an MPD official has said that both Chauvin and another officer at the scene were trained to transition suspects to the recovery position. Additionally, at the time of the arrest, the department’s policy manual allowed neck restraints only in specific circumstances: Officers could use “conscious neck restraints” on suspects who were “actively resisting,” and could deliberately render a suspect unconscious only if it was necessary to gain control of him or save a life. (The policy has since been changed to ban neck restraints entirely.)

The likely defenses haven’t changed much either. It beggars belief that Floyd just happened to die during the eight minutes he was being knelt on, and both of Floyd’s autopsies pointed to the police restraint as a contributor to his death while ruling it a homicide, but the defense will obviously note that Floyd had dangerous drugs in his system and heart problems.

It’s also possible the officers could point to their training on how to deal with suspects suffering from “excited delirium,” but the details on that are murky at this point. Excited delirium is a controversial diagnosis of people who die, often but not always in police custody, after exhibiting bizarre behaviors and even “superhuman strength.”

Some of Chauvin’s defenders have pointed to a 2009 white paper produced by the American College of Emergency Physicians that the Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review attached to a 2018 report about the use of ketamine to pacify suspects. The white paper does say that people suffering from the condition should be restrained — “minimize the time spent struggling, while safely achieving physical control” — but it doesn’t say which restraints to use or avoid, and several of the sources the paper cites raise concerns about prone restraints (especially hog-tying and hobble restraints). It also says that medical personnel “should ideally be present and prepared to resuscitate before definitive LEO [law-enforcement officer] control measures are initiated.”

Certainly this obscure paper doesn’t override the official policies of the MPD or the training the officers received, but it’s not as if we have a complete accounting of what these cops were taught — and conversations that occurred during the arrest itself only confuse the question. The officers mention the possibility of using a hobble restraint, which ties a suspect’s feet to his waist and is discussed in the department’s policy manual as a way to control difficult suspects, though the manual makes clear that a hobbled suspect should be moved to the recovery position as soon as possible. An officer worried about “excited delirium or whatever” also suggests moving Floyd to his side, but Chauvin declines.

The bottom line, I think, is that it’s going to be hard to acquit someone who knelt on a subdued suspect until the suspect apparently lost his pulse, and then kept kneeling for a little while longer. But the key questions hinge on the eight minutes we already knew about, not the eight additional minutes the Daily Mail uncovered.

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