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How do we think about the George Floyd murder? Show more Show less
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On May 25 2020, George Floyd was suffocated to death by the police. Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. In chilling footage that would go viral within 24 hours, officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes ignoring Floyd's repeated pleas for him to move. The asphyxiation led to his cardiac arrest. Floyd's death has so far inspired protests across more than 75 US cities, calling for an end to police brutality and institutional racism. The responses to these riots have included state-wide curfews, the threat of military intervention, attacks on the media and civilian arrests. The situation has given rise to a complex debate with commentators arguing over what precisely it has exposed about contemporary America. So, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?

The murder is simply a murder: It is not representative of wider issues Show more Show less

This approach believes that an isolated murder cannot be used to make broader points about America, its society, and politics.
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George Floyd was a criminal

George Floyd was a convicted criminal. He had spent five years in jail for robbery and assault and was accused of previous crimes. He was not the innocent victim that mainstream media reports suggest. It is not surprising, given this long criminal history, that he was treated with suspicion by police.

The Argument

Empathy is easily misplaced under constant bombardment of sensationalist news. Those practicing integrity in journalism may find themselves outshined by social media users much closer to the source. This was the case with George Floyd. Impressions of the footage depicting his struggle against the excessive force of Officer Derek Chauvin were largely formed before a word of analysis could be made. Subsequent reports were prone to reflect this immediate emotional response as much as the known facts.[1] As a result, key information was omitted. Often this was done consciously to support the Black Lives Matter narrative- the collective had, after all, promptly assimilated the death into their cause. What was not widely circulated was information on George Floyd’s substance abuse and criminal background. Media noted the counterfeit but ignored past offenses, including an aggravated armed robbery of a woman, resulting in a five-year sentence. His consistent re-offenses raise questions about his portrayal as a redeemed character deserving of empathy.[2] Relevant is Floyd’s autopsy, which reveals a ‘fatal level of fentanyl’ present in his bloodstream and that he had recently used methamphetamine at the time of his arrest.[3] His drug-addled, erratic behavior and refusal to comply with simple orders (emphasized by later released body-cam footage) suggests that the four officers did not have a clear-cut method of dealing with him.[4] The longer video also disproves that the officers rapidly escalated the situation. This may not exonerate Chauvin but does diminish accusations that his temperament was rash and motives were sinister. Most can agree that the homicide was unjustified. But George Floyd was a violent criminal, so perhaps it should come as less of a shock that he met a violent end.

Counter arguments

A focus on George Floyd’s criminal background diverts from the message of the protests. He was unarmed, handcuffed, and clearly incapacitated but still perceived as a threat. The four officers had no preconceived evidence that he was a threat, only that he had committed a petty forgery. In context, his past felonies- mainly minor jail sentences for drug possession in a separate state- are irrelevant to the outcome. The parallels between Floyd and other publicized victims of police brutality cannot be ignored. Detractors would like you to think that a twelve-year-old with a toy gun or a helpless bipolar woman constitutes a threat worthy of excessive force, so it follows that a panicking heavily built black man would be an easy target.[5][6] Focusing on their criminality is a common tactic used to justify unnecessary use of force. It’s informed by a victim-blaming and too often racist mentality that is rarely applied to white victims in similar cases. Few are saying Floyd was perfect. What is clear is that his death was an avoidable tragedy.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] Viral news/media can lead to a passionate response, which often disregards the full context. [P2] George Floyd’s suspicious, criminal, and erratic behavior explains his treatment as a threat.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] George Floyd’s criminal background has no bearing on his death’s injustice; the original video rightly caused outrage. [Rejecting P2] Diverting attention to the victim’s criminality is a common tactic used to justify perceived threats, even when they are unreasonable.

References

  1. https://news.sky.com/story/who-was-george-floyd-the-gentle-giant-who-loved-his-hugs-11997206
  2. https://www.snopes.com/news/2020/06/12/george-floyd-criminal-record/
  3. https://www.mncourts.gov/getattachment/Media/StateofMinnesotavTouThao/Container-Documents/Content-Documents/Exhibit-4.pdf.aspx?lang=en-US
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjKjaCvXdf4&bpctr=1601139900
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Tamir_Rice
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/05/black-women-police-killing-tanisha-anderson

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 1 Oct 2020 at 21:14 UTC

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