The mass protests forced global media attention and sufficient state resources supplied to the prosecution; this may not be replicable. Chauvin may have been a bad apple, but the police barrel of apples is deliberately stocked with such rot. Gerald Horne joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news
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On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, his killing of George Floyd was found by the jury to be a murder. Why was on the police force? That’s the question I’m left with.
He joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 2001. He’d been involved in three police shootings, one of which was fatal. had 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline, including official letters of reprimand. According to the former owner of a Latin nightclub where worked as an off-duty security guard, quote ” was unnecessarily aggressive on nights when the club had a black clientele quelling fights by dousing the crowd with pepper spray and calling in several police squad cars as backup.
In September he pinned a 14-year-old boy for several minutes with his knee while ignoring the boy’s pleas that he could not breathe. The boy briefly lost consciousness. So again, why was Derek Chauvin on the Minneapolis police force? Because he’s exactly the kind of sociopath police forces want. Someone who has no compunction in using force against blacks, especially poor blacks. Police forces act as a buffer between people who own stuff and people who don’t. They enforce laws that defend the property of the rich and perpetuate chronic poverty that creates a pool of cheap labor.
They act to contain the violence and social despair that are the consequences of this poverty and make sure that it doesn’t enter the neighborhoods of mostly white and better-off people. Racist police culture is based on a broader American culture with roots and slave society. You must dehumanize those who you exploit the most. Chauvin may have been a bad apple, but the police barrel of apples is deliberately stocked with such rot. We should also not forget he was born into a society and culture that shaped him.
It’s this society and culture that must be condemned and transformed. If this deep-rooted racism is to be expunged, short-term practical steps could include community control of police and to purge overt racists and fascists from the level of command down to street cops and convict all police who murder black and brown men and women and poor people of all races.
Now joining us to discuss the significance of the Chauvin verdict is Gerald Horne. Gerald is a historian who holds the John Jay and Rebecca Morris, Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books, including The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean, and most recently, the Bittersweet Science: Racism, Racketeering and the Political Economy of Boxing. Thanks for joining us again Gerald.
Thank you for inviting me.
So let’s start with your overall impression on the significance of this verdict. President Biden saying it will be, or maybe he used the word could be a great step in the healing of America and towards ending racism and such.
Well, I agree that it’s a step forward, but it’s a step forward for a number of discrete reasons that do not necessarily apply to similar or likeminded cases. A number one, there was a global spotlight on Minneapolis. I was listening on a regular basis to reports from BBC reporters right on the scene, press TV of Iran, R.T. Russia, Voice of America, and their broadcasts to Africa oftentimes focused on this case, including the day of the verdict.
So that was very important. That helped to tip the scales. Number two, of course, was the mass protests by some measures in 2020 the killing of George Floyd and the impending prosecution had unleashed a tidal wave of protests on the street, rarely seen, if ever seen in the United States of America.
And then third, I would point to the prosecution, spearheaded by the attorney general, Keith Ellison, a former leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was able to assemble the resources of the state of Minnesota to bring in other lawyers, to bring in expert witnesses of various sorts, and I think that those three factors helped to tip the scales. We should not assume, as some have, that the videotapes helped to make this case a slam dunk.
After all, you might recall a few decades ago when the black motorist, Rodney King, was captured on tape being beaten by officers of the law, the first jury, in that case, did not necessarily convict to the extent that we desired or recall the case of Eric Garner in Staten Island just a few years ago, that asphyxiation was captured on tape, the case of Oscar Grant about a decade ago in the San Francisco Bay Area that was captured on tape.
So we should recognize that is not a foregone conclusion. That Derek Chauvin would be convicted is not a foregone conclusion. That any police officer will be convicted because the law is constructed to protect them, because, as your commentary suggested, these officers are in place to help to protect the status quo, and I’m afraid to say that a certain kind of false consciousness oftentimes propels the jury to go along with that, even if they’re not part of the ruling elite.
However, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. What I mean is that I think that the right-wing in this country, which, by the way, is growing by leaps and bounds, will be thirsting for revenge. If you tune in to right-wing talk radio, you’ll get a glimpse of what I’m speaking about, and then there are the recent reports about how the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Boogaloo Boys have infiltrated the eighteen thousand plus police departments from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The fact that on Capitol Hill in recent congressional hearings, we learned if we did not know already that many congressional Republicans see the January 6th insurrectionists as their comrades in arms, they were grilling the FBI about why these men and women were supposedly being picked on, and so I think that we’re in a very perilous and dangerous moment right now, but let us at least take a second to savor the small victory in the prosecution of Derek Chauvin .
Yeah, I agree, and I think even just to emphasize something you just said, the reason there was such a global media spotlight was because of the mass protests for months. Without that mass protest, there never would have been the global media spotlight, but every day police are killing people of color, and I want to emphasize also poor whites, I think that gets overlooked, I think in terms of actual numbers, the police are probably killing more poor whites than people of color, but clearly there’s a specific kind of targeting against blacks and particularly black men.
Do you think this will have any kind of reverberation in terms of the consciousness of cops that will think, well, actually, maybe I might get charged and convicted? Look what happened to ? Or is this going to be seen as an anomaly by other police?
Well, it’s hard to say. My lawyer friends say that it will have reverberations. I’m speaking of lawyers who have made a living suing police departments and they think that it sends a signal. I’m not so sure, because what the cops are responding to, particularly in the case of black Americans, is something very deep-seated in U.S. history. It’s not only the question of slavery, it’s the fact that on the eve of the U.S. Civil War, the enslaved Africans were worth more than the factories, worth more than any other assets, so-called in the United States of America, and then that asset was seized without compensation.
One of the largest compensations of private property in the history of capitalism, certainly the history of modern capitalism, as you had in the United States, and so when these officers or when folks in Dixie in particular, when they see black people, they not only see people who have rebelled consistently and constantly over the decades and centuries, that is to say, by the advent of revolts and poisonings and murders and arsons and aligning with Native Americans and aligning with invading British troops, but when they see black people, they also see lost fortunes, and that combination of being rebellious and being a symbol of a lost fortune is really too toxic to even begin to contemplate.
And it’s exacerbated by the fact that not only is this elementary lesson not necessarily taught in schools, but it’s not even necessarily acknowledged by historians, people who make a living studying this kind of thing, and so in a certain sense, we’re all flying blind in this society and it all ends up eventuating in these tragic murders. Fortunately, this one was caught on tape.
I said in the commentary, and I wanted to elaborate a bit more. I mean, when this guy is born, he’s a little baby. He didn’t get to choose where he’d be born, what class he’d be born into, any more than nobody chooses to be born into poverty in inner Baltimore or name your city. He’s shaped by a culture as you have so, I think, brilliantly articulated had been shaped over the course of American history.
It’s a consciousness that I’ve always been kind of a little bit, I don’t know, intrigued a bit by it. Like why Confederate soldiers? I think you and I talked a bit about this last time. You know, poor farmers, poor white farmers go off and fight and die in the defense of the slave system when many of them, even most of them, didn’t really directly benefit from it. The poor workers, poor farmers, and it’s part of this, I think, a consciousness that was developed. Well, at least I’m white. You’re fighting to be able to say, well, at least I’m not a slave, at least I’m not black, at least I’m white, and that culture of at least I’m white, has some sense of identity wrapped up in that, and people are actually willing to die for that kind of identity.
As you say, there’s no unpacking of that history and what it means. So even when President Biden talks about racism and so on, they never want to unpack this history.
Well, Joseph R. Biden is probably not aware of the history, that’s why he’s unable to unpack it, and I agree that there is a certain property interest in the construction of whiteness. That is to say, those thousands of young American men in Dixie who from 1861 to 1865, fought and died to perpetuate the enslavement of Africans. Some of them, of course, were fighting to perpetuate a system that was helping to keep alive a form of unpaid labor that could then drag down their wages and living conditions, but it’s more than just false consciousness.
I think once again, it goes back to the origins of society. Sadly enough, even in the vocabularies of those who consider themselves to be radical, the elementary term settler colonialism is generally absent, but if you go back and look at settler colonialism, particularly in the Anglosphere, if you go back to, say, the 1580s in what is now North Carolina, you’ll see that the original settlers were from various class backgrounds, goldsmiths, merchants, teachers, etc, and they were sponsored by what you might colloquially call the one percent in London.
The bargain was that if they worked together, they could expropriate the land from the Native Americans and accomplish what came to be called the American Dream, and with a little luck and a lot of pluck, they could then somehow down the road gain free labor from enslaved Africans, and so there was a sort of corrupt bargain at the onset of what is now the United States of America, what was in the beginning, a kind of English colonialism, English settler colonialism at that.
And still to this very day, you have this kind of class collaboration between some of the ninety-nine percent and some of the one percent. How else can you explain how and why a faux billionaire, Donald J. Trump in November 2020, received almost seventy-five million votes? It seems to me that a combination of analyzing white supremacy and class collaboration is the way to come to some sort of answer to that troubling question, but once again, I don’t necessarily expect the advisers at the White House to do that sort of analysis.
Otherwise, they’d be hauled before a congressional committee and asked where they’re getting their talking points from.
From you. They’d be listening to you, which I don’t know. Or if they are listening, they’d taken it in.
Or alternatively, it seems to me that the problem is that none of the friends of ours on the Left have moved to a deeper analysis of the United States of America to the point where they could help to instruct perhaps those who compose Mr. Biden’s talking points.
You know, when I was in Baltimore, I knew a lot of cops. I used to interview them and got to know them, especially the black cops, and they knew very well who the real racists were, the real violent, overt racists. Everybody knew on the police force knew who they were. It’s not that the police culture itself wasn’t racist and violent, but if you want to use the bad apple theory, there were some that were really beyond the pale and they were being protected by command and the black cops, even though they had their own union in Baltimore, the black cops had their own association. They felt they could do next to nothing about it.
What do you think of this? This is very deliberate, that this kind of character is a real part of how they deliberately build police forces across the country?
Oh, most definitely. I mean, even if it’s not written in the hiring guidelines, oftentimes there are subjective decisions made by the individuals who during the hiring and it’s well known any social psychologists could tell you that people tend to hire those who resemble themselves be it a police department or an academic department at a research university.
However, having said that, I think that one of the turning points in this particular case, speaking of the case involving Derek Chauvin , was a crack in the blue wall of silence, the fact that not only the police chief threw Derek Chauvin under the bus, as they say in the United States, that is, he testified against them, but then they brought in other experts, including experts from Los Angeles, who know a thing or two about how to subjugate and subdue a criminal suspect who also testified against Derek Chauvin, not to mention the very impressive expert witnesses they were able to bring into the fray, including a very articulate pulmonologist who outshined and excelled, the defense experts.
And despite the fact that the defense had access to a substantial budget of the police union, it seemed as if their defense left something to be desired, not only in terms of the Monday morning quarterbacking, criticizing the defense lawyer, which may be speaking objectively a bit unfair because he was up against a powerful team of attorneys, but also the experts, so-called experts that were brought in to testify on behalf of Mr. Chauvin were not very convincing, including that one expert from your former home state of Maryland who has all sorts of cases hanging over his head
Seventeen years of covering up the crimes of police, that guy.
Right, so there were a number of very particular aspects and subjective aspects that led to this small victory in Minneapolis.
There’s another shift going on, which I would say are also small, maybe more than small victories in terms of the short-term practical piece of this. In Maryland, I understand they’re not there anymore, but they have voted out the piece of legislation that made it almost impossible to control, have any civilian control of the police. I can’t remember the exact name of the legislation, but it was a piece of legislation that gave the police union enormous power, and if I understand correctly, Maryland was the first state that ever passed such legislation. It became the model and now it’s one of the first to undo it, and apparently, a few others are either in process or doing it.
It’s a very big deal. I mean, normally one would be in defense of unions and such, but boy, with the rarest exception, because apparently, like in Madison, Wisconsin, there wasn’t such a bad police union, but most of them are just God awful.
Well, there are some hopeful signs with regard to legislation. First of all, there’s the George Floyd Act that’s been passed by the House. Sad to say it’ll probably meet a dire fate on behalf of the grim reaper, Mitch McConnell, in the U.S. Senate, but still, it forms a kind of template and a model for other legislatures to follow. And then you have Attorney General Merrick Garland, who’s trying to roll back some of the Trump Justice Department regulations concerning consent decrees, which is a step forward. And then you have in cities like Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles and Seattle attempts – some successful, some not yet successful – to remove police from the front lines in terms of doing mundane tasks. For example, responding to nosy neighbors, noise complaints.
For example, I recall last year before the lockdown that in Pasadena, California, I was stopped by a police officer with a gun for jaywalking and he slapped me with a two hundred forty dollar ticket. All the while he was writing it, he was looking at me out of one eye, very nervous. I was thinking I was gonna get shot for jaywalking, and although that might sound absurd, it’s really not because there have been cases where black men in particular have been slain for jaywalking.
Indeed, the late-night comic Trevor Noah had a very sardonic piece the other night where he had a black parent telling his eight year-old daughter how to respond so that the eight year-old daughter wouldn’t intimidate some beefy policeman. So obviously that sounds ridiculous, but obviously, what it points to is something much deeper when you have a grown man being intimidated by an eight year-old girl, you’re talking about something that requires not only historical excavation but psychoanalysis.
I know from Baltimore, and I don’t think this gets talked enough about, because when it does get talked about, I don’t think it gets framed properly. Some of the urban centers and some of the neighborhoods that are extremely poor, whereas in some neighborhoods in Baltimore, over half the male population have been incarcerated previously and many go back and forth. These neighborhoods are really violent, and the most successful way of dealing with it so far that I saw was actually when the community itself developed its own means of intervening, especially in domestic violence or even gang violence, and told the cops, stay the hell out and let us deal with it first.
In some neighborhoods, it actually worked fairly well, and to some extent, the cops did stay out. It’s a real program, I think, that’s had some success. What are ways the community can take some control in two ways. One, control of their own neighborhoods and the violence that’s the consequence of such poverty, but the people who suffer most from it are other poor people, and then two the idea of community control of the police?
Well, I think the latter is particularly significant, and I think it can take many forms. I mean, for example, it can take the form of a city-wide commission whereby you have representation from various constituencies that have oversight over the police department that calls in on a regular basis the chief of police, that has subpoena power, the ability to dig into the records of the police department, and then there is a decentralized model where a particular neighborhood or particular community can have a similar kind of oversight of the police in that particular community, or with similar powers as a city-wide police commission.
Unfortunately, right now, that seems to be a bridge too far for even the most progressive-minded citizens, but as this Derek Chauvin case suggested, I think that we’re going to have to think more creatively because the fact that you have this videotape, but many of us were on pins and needles wondering if Mr. Chauvin would be convicted and then fretting about what would be the aftermath of an acquittal, for example, or more retribution in the streets by militarized police departments using their excess military material from the Pentagon. So we really need some more creative solutions because I don’t think we can keep going on like this.
One of the models I know I had seen in Toronto, and then I moved to Baltimore and we had these town halls and a lot of cops, some cops came to the town halls and discussed this in a constructive way. In Toronto, there’s an interesting model that I think could be refined because the way it is right now, I’m not sure how well it works.
The civilian board is not an oversight board and it’s not a review board. It’s an actual management board. For example, the police union has to negotiate with this civilian board. The civilian board hires the chief of police, not the mayor. The problem with the civilian board is one-third of it is appointed by the province, one-third is appointed by the city, and then the two of them appoint civilians who are not either province or city, which means that you usually get a majority of people on the board that are more or less status quo types.
Occasionally you get some that are more representative of the community, and by no means is the Toronto police force benign. There are all kinds of cases of police abuse and corruption and so on, but I think it’s a good thing to think about this as civilian control in a real way, not just oversight and review, and I guess that could be structured in different ways. I don’t know. What’s your thinking on that?
Well, certainly that’s something worth exploring. And also worth exploring is the question of training of the police that came up repeatedly during the trial. That is to say, whether or not he was following policy and procedures, for example, that’s going to come up again during the trial of the officer who killed. Dante Wright at Brooklyn Center, just outside of Minneapolis, obviously, she did not follow protocols with regard to distinguishing her taser from her pistol.
And what that bespeaks is that we need these community control boards to get involved more directly and heavily in terms of these police academies and police training and going over the policies and procedures and the manuals, for example, and let me also say that this is another case where diversity is not just some sort of virtue signaling, as they say in the United States, because we can say minimally that hiring more women, police officers hopefully will curb any kind of toxic masculinity that has seeped into the ranks.
And certainly, if you look at other countries which have taken affirmative action to hire more women police officers, they find that oftentimes it’s easier to instruct these particular officers on tactics of de-escalation. De-escalation is now a favorite buzzword in police departments. That is to say the opposite of what you saw on the nine-plus minute videotape involving Derek Chauvin where you don’t necessarily try to turn everything into a mano a mano conflict, but try to channel it into something reasonable.
I think that there are all sorts of proposals that we could discuss. The problem in the United States is political will. The problem in the United States is that the right-wing is so strong and they seemingly have an interest in having the police act more like invading Marines than social workers.
Yeah, the thing is, I want to reinforce your point. There are lots of good concrete suggestions in a short, practical way that would mitigate this, including special training for police that have to get involved in domestic disputes. So in other words, they’re actually more like social workers than cops, but I think there’s another piece to why this doesn’t happen, and it’s not just what I said in the commentary that the wealthy want a police force that can make sure there’s a subdued and chronic poverty.
There’s deep and profound corruption, outright corruption in so many of the police forces. I know from Baltimore, there were a big series of scandalous arrests of cops when it finally came out who were ripping off drug dealers and working with gangs and even involved in murders on behalf of one gang against another gang, and this went up the line of command. The amount of the arrests didn’t quite go up the line of command, but everybody knew. This couldn’t be going on for years and years.
This was the gun task force. There was a special task force to get guns off the streets, and, yeah, they were getting guns off the streets of one gang and making sure the gang that was paying them kept their guns and it went on from there. This profound corruption, I think, is very tied to the kind of sociopaths who are also such racists and also so violent, and it’s a horrible culture where the cops who actually want to try and be of some service to their community.
In Baltimore, I think that was generally more black cops. That’s not to say there weren’t black cops also involved on the corruption side. There were, but this link between deep corruption and the violence and the feeling that they can shoot and kill with impunity. Well, they’re getting away with corruption, with impunity, too, in many cases, and maybe even from a political point of view, to make people start to understand this link between the corruption and the overt racism and violence.
It all goes back to the need for the kind of activism that took place after the George Floyd murder and demands for community control and rooting this rot out.
Well, speaking of activism, one case in point is what’s taking place in Los Angeles in the last year or two, where you had a number of activists who supported the dislodging of the prosecuting attorney, Jackie Lacey, in favor of George Gascon, who has come in professing reforms, but alas, what’s happened is that many of the attorneys in that office have revolted and rebelled against his reforms. So it’s unclear what’s going to happen.
Likewise, in your own Baltimore, I understand that Marilyn Mosby, the prosecuting attorney there, is trying to move away from prosecuting what many of us would consider to be trivial offenses, particularly offenses like marijuana possession. I can tell you the countless number of young black men, in particular, have on their record arrests for marijuana, and then that serves as a barrier oftentimes to entering the armed forces or to getting a job and then in a sort of absurd conclusion.
Now, in certain of these jurisdictions, they’re moving to legalize marijuana and it’s turning into a multi-million dollar business, and yet these records, these stained records still persist, but once again, I think that the activism, particularly this activism around trying to have an input on who’s the prosecuting attorney or the activism that you just saw in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, where you had the election of the first black woman mayor, the progressive Tishaura Jones, who was promising to upend some of the more noxious practices in the police department there because recall that the police department there were so troublesome that they had Facebook pages where they were repeating racist slurs.
They thought that they could operate with impunity by putting their insults in writing. So I think that activism backed by global support, as we saw in the case of Derek Chauvin , is the kind of stuff that we need, along with the election of officials like Tishaura Jones, Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota, etc.
And that if Biden is at all, really serious about the things he’s saying about racism and the police and so on, the Biden administration, the federal government has some real power to go after local police forces through the DOJ and the FBI, the FBI, especially through the issue of corruption. That’s part of what came out of the gun task force case in Baltimore, and it was also actually the FBI that went after terrible corruption in the Baltimore County City Jail, I guess it was.
And the DOJ has the power to go into these police forces and issue orders demanding certain kinds of reforms, and I think if people in Congress and otherwise make this administration live up to the rhetoric because they do have some powers to do something about this, although I don’t think anything replaces the need for the community to fight for its own power.
Well, certainly, I would add to that list the question of military material from the Pentagon going to police departments. I understand that the Biden administration might have taken some steps in that direction, but I still keep seeing these pictures on television and elsewhere of police departments patrolling, and you would think they were patrolling in Fallujah or Kabul in terms of how they’re armed, and that is obviously very disturbing because unlike in Fallujah or Kabul, the people they’re patrolling oftentimes are totally unarmed, and so this is very disturbing, and I would also say that we really need to do something sooner rather than later, not only because of the growth of the right-wing but also because I think in the black community, there’s so much exasperation that you’re seeing an uptick in gun purchases and gun ownership.
In Louiseville you’ve had the evolution and development of a new group, the Not F-ing Around Coalition, although they don’t use that euphemism effing, which is armed to the teeth that has been coming to demonstrations, armed and oftentimes getting in face-offs with the ultra right-wing in Louisville and with the police authorities as well. So we’re sitting on top of a ticking time bomb in the United States of America right now, and I think we need to take some action sooner rather than later.
Underlying all of this, to a large extent, anyway, is this perpetuation of chronic poverty in most of American cities, certainly big cities. Did you see anything in this Biden infrastructure plan that would in some way target alleviate that?
Well, home care. As you know, home care has become a major industry, is what’s helping to keep the Service Employees International Union alive and other unions alive, and it’s oftentimes a profession that’s dominated by black women, and also, I would say, allocations towards childcare, which I guess you could see as a form of care, as an adjunct of home care, is also something that I think could go a long way, not only in terms of the workers that are being employed in child care, but then liberating, unquote, parents who don’t have to worry about what to do with their toddlers. So we’ll see what happens with that plan. I’m not sure what its fate will be.
Yeah, I know. I was interviewing Bob Pollin and I’m going to publish that in a couple of days, and I guess both of us were kind of astounded when we looked at the statement on the Biden White House website that the retrofitting of buildings, which is the most efficient, economical way to reduce carbon emissions, is a potentially massive employment program, and it’s also the kind of job you could train people that don’t have a lot of those kinds of skills. You can fairly quickly train people to be part of an operation to retrofit houses and office buildings.
They’re only going to do two million houses according to that. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s one of the most important things they could be doing, and I link it to this because, when I was in Baltimore, I used to talk about this. Retrofitting buildings could create so much employment. You have a training program, and if you’re going to spend, Bob made this point, they spent three trillion dollars propping up the stock market and they’re going to do two million houses of retrofitting when you could have a massive program and really target poor communities of color, poor white people, but train poor people to retrofit buildings on a massive scale, and it doesn’t seem to be there.
Well, along with your point about community control and empowering people in communities. We also need to talk about empowering working people, which brings us to the right to organize, the PRO Act, which I’m afraid to say, like so many positive ideas, will probably be stalled in the Senate, but the apparent defeat of the union organizing drive at Bessemer, Alabama, seeking to organize Amazon, which could have been a step forward to organizing these tens of thousands of Amazon workers and these warehouses, particularly warehouses in the Inland Empire, Riverside County and San Bernardino County in Southern California, the kind of anti-union tactics that were deployed so mercilessly by Amazon hopefully would be circumscribed by the passage of this kind of legislation.
And certainly, once again, in terms of ultimate solutions, I don’t think we can begin to talk about ultimate solutions without talking about liberating working people, organizing working people, organizing more unions, and then having these unions become more directly involved in political action, such as electing officials that will act like Keith Ellison did in the Derek Chauvin case.
All right. Thanks very much for joining us.
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