The police murder of George Floyd

floydMasses mobilise worldwide against US racist murder

It almost seems like déja vu watching another black man murdered by police on our screens, except this isn’t really a re-run of a past event, it’s an ongoing continuation of a policy of dividing workers along racial lines and keeping them in their given places through extremely violent examples. Even when people took to the streets to protest about the state murder of the latest black victim, that policy was immediately, and rigidly, applied, as the police, national guard, army units etc., used extreme violence as a first option, openly causing riots and then responding with even greater force and deadly intent to the public anger and hurt that they had forced upon the protesters.

The chosen initial victim of that policy this time was George Floyd. Mr Floyd had tried to buy a packet of cigarettes at a deli in Powderhorn, a neighbourhood of Minneapolis on the evening of 25 May 2020, and the banknote he used was apparently counterfeit. The sale was refused and, after he left, the assistant who had refused to serve him rang the police to tell them a black man had just offered a counterfeit $20.00 bill and seemed to have been drinking. A mere 17 minutes after police officers received a call to investigate, George Floyd lay motionless, face-down and handcuffed on a Minneapolis street.

Officers Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K Lane were the arresting officers (executioners) and, despite their statements that Mr Floyd resisted and struggled with them while refusing to get into their car, a nearby security camera shows quite clearly that he did not struggle at all but was looking back at his cuffed hands in obvious pain, and that he seemed to fall as he got to the car. While George lay there with officer Kueng holding his back, with officer Lane grabbing hold of his legs and Officer Thao threatening the gathering onlookers with pepper spray if they came any closer, officer Chauvin knelt down with his full weight, hands calmly in his pockets, on the back of Mr Floyd’s neck. The four officers refused to listen to pleas from the crowd, many of whom were filming this lynching playing out before them, and ignored the video-recorded pleas from George Floyd himself of “Please don’t kill me,” “everything hurts” and “I can’t breathe.”

Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; this included 2 minutes and 53 seconds after George had stopped talking, moving, or visibly breathing. During the short time that elapsed between the police arriving and Mr Floyd’s death, at least one of the four executioners did ring for medical aid, but at no time was the knee removed until the murder was over. The Minneapolis Fire Department filed an incident report which reads that Fire Engine 17 responded to a call to assist emergency medical services but were told only that George Floyd had "trauma to his mouth." Their report also said that the firefighters found that the "bystanders were upset but not unruly" and told them that the police officers "had killed the man."

Whenever and wherever decent people saw and heard that recording that night and the words “I can’t breathe” there was a gasp of horror as minds raced back to another black victim of police murder, Eric Garner, in 2014, who was executed by choking for the ‘crime’ of selling loose cigarettes, and who had also managed to utter those same three words before succumbing to death by strangulation. The words had no resonance with the murderers of George Floyd, however. The assassins finished their job in the confident belief that they were, like every other cop that had ever murdered a black man, immune because of those blue uniforms of theirs.

Unsurprisingly, the initial autopsy results stated that there was; “…no indication that Floyd died of strangulation or traumatic asphyxia, but that the combined effects of being restrained, underlying health conditions, including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease, and potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” The family of Mr Floyd announced straight away that there would be an independent autopsy and, also unsurprisingly, that independent autopsy says George Floyd did die of "asphyxiation from sustained pressure" as a result of his neck and back being compressed by the four Minneapolis police officers. The pressure that they brought to bear on his spine and internal organs cut off the blood flow to his brain. The medical examiner’s office, releasing a report on the same day as that independent autopsy report, are now saying that the cause of death was indeed "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."

If Mr Floyd’s heart failed it was purely because of what the police officers were doing, and any fair-minded person would surely conclude that should still be classed as murder! – Watch this space.

What was surprising was that the four officers were all sacked on the night of the murder, an unusual tacit admission by the police department that they had done something ‘wrong’. Derek Chauvin, who was still carrying 18 complaints against his conduct as a police officer, was then charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. It must be remembered that none of this was happening in a vacuum: thousands were immediately out in the streets protesting across the country (and a little later the world) despite the ever-present dangers of arrest, injury or death that always come with protesting against police murder in the USA (there have been many injured and one man was shot dead outside a Minneapolis pawn shop on the second night of protests). It was the increasing pressure of these constant demonstrations that persuaded the state, forcing it to give ground on charging these murdering (now ex) policemen. Charges for Chauvin were upped to second-degree murder and the other three are now charged with aiding and abetting murder. The Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, who upped the third degree murder charge to second degree for Chauvin, said that investigations were ongoing and, if enough evidence could be found, that charge would rise to first degree murder. However, he also said “We’re confident in what we’re doing, but history does show that there are challenges here.” An understatement if ever there was one!

Racism – the American disease

Between 2013 and 2019, according to Mapping Police Violence (MPV), an American group that researches police violence and gives guidance in resisting and halting it, US police killed 7,666 people.

The number of police killings across the whole of the US disproportionately affects African Americans. Despite only making up 13 percent of the US population, Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police.

Native Americans actually came out even higher on a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) using data from 1999 to 2015 as reported by CNN: “For every 1 million Native Americans, an average of 2.9 of them died annually from 1999 to 2015 as a result of a ‘legal intervention,’ according to a CNN review of CDC data broken down by race. The vast majority of these deaths were police shootings. But a few were attributed to other causes, including manhandling.” Native American people are by and large restricted to a much smaller area within the USA, their confinement no longer enforced by law, but fear still plays a large part in their holding together, as do the economic chains that keep most of them living within ‘reservation’ lands.

Police killings, therefore, are not just a problem suffered by black Americans, but evidence shows that it is black Americans who are most likely to be killed by police officers across most of the country. They are nearly twice as likely to be killed as Latino/Hispanics. Black Americans, the research tells us, are also about 1.4 times more likely to be unarmed in fatal interactions with police than white Americans.

Racism does not just exist within the various police forces of the US, it is systemic within most institutions and, while it is obvious to most of its victims, many of those who are not at the sharp end seem to have difficulty seeing it at all.

Understanding racism requires some understanding of history. The Native Americans teach their young the history of white men landing on the shores of a vast land and wiping out the majority of the inhabitants in so many slaughters that it can only be described as a holocaust, while keeping the surviving few in woeful need on small tracts of land that are still pilfered when corporate profit is weighed against Native American needs. Most Native Americans understand racism very well.

While many Hispanic/Latino people move to the USA to escape the grinding poverty set upon their own lands by US imperialist greed, most are actually born in the US and are descendants of the Mexicans who were living on the massive tracts of land (55% of Mexico) when it was stolen by the US in 1848. This land is better known as the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Mexican people living in the 55% of their country that was suddenly part of the USA lost lands, possessions, rights and many lives. The Hispanic/Latino peoples understand racism.

Black Americans are the descendants of enslaved Africans who were chained in overcrowded rotten wooden ships, many of which sank, leading the ‘trading companies’ to expect to lose a great deal of their ‘stock’ en route, to be brought to America to live lives of drudgery and immense cruelty, making profits for the owners of vast cotton and tobacco estates. Among these plantation owners could be found most of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence. With the abolition of slavery came enforced segregation and, as the blacks were no longer the valuable property of the white masters, widespread lynchings of black people on the flimsiest excuse. These ‘events’ were often advertised beforehand in the local papers and were treated as picnics where white families of all classes would take their children for a day out. The victim was usually beaten on the way to the chosen tree and ‘ladies’ and children would stab at them with sharpened sticks for fun. Then the victim was ‘strung up’ to choke slowly to death, while often a fire would be lit underneath him to increase the agony, if that were possible. It has to be wondered how many of these victims, many only children, managed to choke out the words, “I can’t breathe!

Slip forward in time and look at the heinous crimes committed by some recent victims of the US police:

Eric Garner had just broken up a fight, according to witness testimony. Ezell Ford was walking in his neighbourhood. Michelle Cusseaux was changing the lock on her home’s door when police arrived to take her to a mental health facility. Tanisha Anderson was having a bad mental health episode, and her brother called 911 to get help for her. Tamir Rice was playing in a park. Natasha McKenna was having a schizophrenic episode when she was tazed in Fairfax, Va. Walter Scott was going to an auto-parts store. Bettie Jones answered the door to let Chicago police officers in to help her upstairs neighbour, who had called 911 to resolve a domestic dispute. Philando Castile was driving home from dinner with his girlfriend. Botham Jean was eating ice cream in his living room in Dallas. Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her nephew at home in Fort Worth, Texas. Eric Reason was pulling into a parking spot at a local chicken and fish shop. Dominique Clayton was sleeping in her bed. Breonna Taylor was also asleep in her bed. And George Floyd was at the grocery store with a dodgy $20 bill. We don’t even know if he knew it was dodgy or not. Yes, Black Americans know what racism is!

White people do tend to have a problem in this area: some feel guilt and others assume that the descendants of victims of the racist violence of the past want them to feel guilt. As a result you get statements such as: “it’s in the past we should move on, etc.” Nobody wants anyone to feel guilty for those past crimes, as modern day white people did not commit those crimes, but an acknowledgement that they happened and of their inherent racism is necessary because without understanding, or even knowing, that, how can you hope to understand and deal with the racist violence by the police today! Because that does need to be recognised and called out by white people. It’s time to choose to be part of the problem or part of the answer!

It is good to see so many white faces among the protesters across the USA and indeed around the world, but now another step is necessary for all! You must understand what the state is!

The State

The quickest definition of the state comes from Lenin; “The state is the product and the manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises when, where and to the extent that the class antagonisms cannot be objectively reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable” (The State and revolution, Selected works Vol 7, p. 8). Further, “The state is a special organisation of force; it is the organisation of violence for the suppression of some class” (ibid., p. 24). Moreover, “The exploiting classes need political rule in order to maintain exploitation, i.e., the selfish interests of an insignificant minority and against the interests of the vast majority” (ibid., p. 25). Explaining in the end that: “The forms of the bourgeois state are extremely varied, but in essence they are all the same: in one way or another, in the last analysis, all these states are the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” (ibid. p. 34).

There are, unfortunately, many who think that the state is somehow neutral, above class rule and the struggles around it. This is simply not true. The US state machine (just like those of Britain, France, et al) is there for the protection of the right of the ruling elite to exploit the masses. The state consists of a managerial staff, i.e., Presidents and elected governments, cabinets and parliaments etc., the judiciary to form laws, and an armed body of men, i.e., police army, national guard etc., physically and violently to keep each group of the lower classes in their place. Many bourgeois states around the world will try to disguise their state as unconnected with the unhindered rule of a tiny elite, but in the USA police are much more openly controlled by the elite. The police in the US have a virtual ‘get out of Jail free’ card. The bourgeois state needs its police force to be vicious and unchallengeable. However, this case could not have come at a worse time for the state, at a time of widespread cries of discontent over federal and state authorities’ handling of the Covid 19 virus; over working class fears in the face of the possible economic consequences of the virus; over the usual inequity of huge bailouts for the massive corporations but little or no help for ordinary workers. Also, with a presidential election looming, there seems to be a growing recognition that Republican and Democrat politicians alike are unresponsive to the plight of ordinary American workers and only interested in the elite.

These are the reasons that the state, through the Minneapolis Governor, were quick to sack the murdering officers and then bring charges against them. Yet still they are unable to stop the outburst of demonstrations.

As pointed out above, the bourgeois state needs its police force to be both mean and loyal, and many of its officers perceive the charging of the four murderers as disloyalty to them by the bourgeois state (consider, Derek Chauvin is the first police officer in Minnesota to have been charged with the murder of a black man, ever!). Although most protesters are trying to keep their demonstrations non-violent, the ultra-violent attacks by police on protesters, including the use of tear gas, plastic baton rounds and pellets and vehicles for rammings, along with the usual clubs, boots, shields and occasional live bullets, back up our assertion that it is Chauvin’s murder charge and not the slow, barbaric murder of Floyd by one of their own that has incensed fellow officers. They expect continuing impunity for their violence. So, on one hand you have the state trying to buy off the protesters with these charges and on the other hand you have the police going crazy at the protesters because they feel betrayed. The state cannot survive without a loyal armed group of men to keep everyone in line and workers divided, so we do expect a retraction of the charges at some point, or a light sentence with a job in another police force or even possibly a big sentence which could then be cancelled within a short time. One thing that will not be wanted is Chauvin in court explaining that he was trained to do the neck kneeling tactic by the police.

Police training from the IDF

Minneapolis Mayor, Jacob Frey , despite the very fast action in sacking the four murderers and bringing a murder charge, while talking of his disgust at what he called an illegal ‘hold’, nevertheless serves on the board of an organisation that advocates for Israel despite the latter’s discriminatory system and long record of violating international law. Frey has referred to “the extraordinary things that are happening right now” in Israel. Kneeling on the necks of Palestinian adults and children alike is what is happening in occupied Palestine, and many victims of this ‘hold’ have died or been left paralysed with broken necks, but we don’t think that is what Mayor Frey was referring to.

So, is this method of slowly throttling a suspect illegal in Minneapolis? Apparently not it seems. Since 2002 the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for senior police officers to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Over 100 Minnesota police officers attended a 2012 conference organised by the Israeli consulate in which Israeli police trained them. Israeli forces often use the knee-on-neck restraint on Palestinians.

During this ‘conference’ the ‘top-notch’ IDF tutors gave displays and lessons where the police officers learned the violent techniques used by Israeli forces as they terrorise the occupied Palestinian territories.

Even that paragon of imperialist virtue, Amnesty International, was compelled to report that hundreds of police from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state and Washington DC had been flown to Israel for training. Adding: “Baltimore and other police departments should find partners that will train on de-escalation techniques, how to handle mentally challenged or ill citizens, on the constitutional rights of citizens concerning filming and how to appropriately respond to those using non-violent protest to express their opinions. Israel is not such a partner…”

The demonstrations and the Press

As we have said, the demonstrations have been peaceful and the response from the police has been violent in the extreme. We won’t go through them all as in this age of camera phones the images speak volumes. It is worth looking at the press though, as in normal times the bourgeois press would report the police narrative in full: hard-pressed officers, violent and criminal protesters etc. But, the US cops in their anger are attacking the media workers at every demo. Reporters have been arrested, punched, hit with batons and shields, been shot at while holding up their press passes and shouting; “we’re press”. The response of police to their cries has been “we don’t care.” Instead of calming things down these rioting police officers are widening their circle of enemies by attacking the press, and in retaliation the media workers are now mainly telling the truth about the police. The system, as the Americans say, is going to hell in a handcart! There are some black nationalist voices being raised for a black only revolution, but if 13% of the population see the other 87% of the population as their enemy and take them on there will only be one winner and that will be the elite 1%! Now more than ever, workers of all colours must unite. The enemy is on show, it is weak and its police, army, etc. are divided and not feeling very loyal to them. Keep up with the demos, keep attracting more people, keep explaining and learning what this struggle is about and why the cops feel they can do what they do.