America’s cities did not burn last night. But the terrified preparations in Minneapolis and elsewhere in anticipation of the George Floyd verdict—the razor wire and barricades around government buildings, the activation of the National Guard, the declaration in Minnesota of a “peacetime emergency,” the fortified police presence, the curfews, the cancellation of school, the boarded up businesses—raise serious questions about the rule of law in the United States. Had the jury failed to convict Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder and manslaughter, the ensuing riots would likely have made the conflagrations of 2020 look like a Girl Scout campfire.
This likely outcome was evident long before Congresswoman Maxine Waters encouraged such violence over the weekend. Last year’s precedent, the ensuing 12 months of wildly inaccurate rhetoric about white supremacy, and the recent looting in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, over a fatal police shooting made such rioting a virtual certainty. That inflammatory rhetoric poured forth from every institution in the country—from the presidency, Congress, corporations, law firms, banks, tech companies, academia, and the public school system. The mainstream media pounded home the narrative about unchanging black oppression. And even after the verdict, the White House (perhaps that name will be gone in another year) and the press have doubled down on the systemic racism conceit, despite the coordinated effort to convict among Minnesota’s public officials and the state’s most prestigious members of the private bar.
Going forward, it is an open question whether any police officer can receive a trial free from mob pressure, should he be prosecuted for use of lethal force.
The Chauvin jury may have pondered not just the destruction of American cities following any acquittal but its own safety. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had published profiles of jury members minus their names on Monday, during closing arguments in the trial.
Contrary to the prosecution’s assertions, this was not an entirely open-and-shut case. The defense had at least arguably raised reasonable doubt about whether Floyd died of a Fentanyl overdose, aggravated by his preexisting heart disease and the stress of the arrest, and about Chauvin’s requisite intent to cause serious bodily harm. Floyd had been complaining about not being able to breathe before he was put face-down on the ground under Chauvin’s knee. The medical examiner had said that had Floyd been found dead at home in the same condition, the cause of death would have been identified as a drug overdose. The speed of the verdict and the absence of any questions to the judge may suggest that the jury had a broader set of issues on its mind than exclusively the evidence before it. Further complicating the process, as jury selection was underway, the city of Minneapolis had awarded civil damages to Floyd’s family.
In short, the criminal justice system did not behave like an institution shot through with anti-black bias.
Yet President Joe Biden took the occasion of the conviction to recycle his favorite “white supremacy” themes from his allegedly “unifying” inaugural speech and campaign rhetoric. Floyd’s murder “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism . . . that is a stain our nation’s soul; the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans; the profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day,” Biden said from the White House. The “summer of protest” had sent the message, according to Biden: “Enough. Enough. Enough of the senseless killings.”
Biden was not referring to the senseless killing of seven-year-old Jaslyn Adams, gunned down in a Chicago McDonald’s over the weekend. He was not referring to the four dozen black children who were killed last year in their beds, front porches, back porches, at barbecues and family birthday parties, and in their parents’ cars. He was not referring to the dozens of blacks killed every day in drive-by shootings—more than all white and Hispanic homicide victims combined—even though blacks are only 12 percent of the nation’s population. Those thousands of black deaths get no attention from the Black Lives Matter movement and its most fervent press acolytes because the homicide perpetrators are other blacks, not the police or whites.
Biden, rather, was referring to a phantom idea: that blacks have to “worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run or just walking down the street or driving their car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home.” This would be an accurate statement if it referenced the terrorism of neighborhood gangs and their stupefyingly mindless retaliatory shootings. It is a falsehood, however, directed at the police. In 2020, the police fatally shot 18 allegedly unarmed blacks (unarmed being defined extremely loosely to include suspects grabbing an officer’s gun or fleeing in a car with a loaded pistol on the seat). That represents 0.2 percent of all blacks who died of homicide in 2020, and an infinitesimal percentage of the 40 million blacks in the U.S. If the police ended all fatal shootings tomorrow, it would have a negligible effect on the black death-by-homicide rate, which is 13 times higher than the white death-by-homicide rate for decedents between the ages of ten and 43.
Yet immediately after the verdict, Barack Obama repeated the same fiction, one that he in fact had pioneered during his presidency: that black Americans rightly “live in fear” that their next encounter with law enforcement will be their last. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan’s tweet that Minnesota is a place where it is not safe to be black (because of the police) is an equal betrayal of the truth.
The idea that blacks are frequently and disproportionately gunned down by the police is an optical illusion created by selective media coverage. If the press chose to ignore police shootings of blacks and focus exclusively on police shootings of whites (which are twice as numerous), Americans would think that we are living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings of whites. A 2016 case from Dallas involving a white man named Tony Timpa almost exactly adumbrated the Floyd arrest and death, but no one has heard of Tony Timpa.
Last week, the Biden administration rescinded guidelines put out by former U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions establishing commonsensical preconditions for when the Department of Justice can open a so-called pattern or practice investigation of police departments for systemic civil rights violations. Those investigations almost invariably result in costly, bureaucratically clotted consent decrees. As Harvard economist Roland Fryer has shown, police consent decrees have resulted in thousands of additional deaths when preceded by anti-police agitation. Now Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, has announced the initiation of a pattern or practice investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, signaling the start of increased federal control of police departments.
Last year, the United States saw the largest percentage increase in homicides in the nation’s recorded history, thanks to depolicing. The crime wave has continued unabated in 2021. It will worsen. The Minneapolis verdict will not change the poisonous narrative about a racist criminal-justice system. That narrative ensures that encounters between black suspects and the police will remain fraught. Black suspects will continue to resist arrest, increasing the chance that officers will escalate their use of force. If a suspect death ensues, more riots will follow.
The victims will initially be, as always, the thousands of law-abiding blacks in vulnerable urban neighborhoods who yearn for more police protection. But the power of riot ideology—the blackmailing of American institutions with the threat of black rage—is too advantageous to give up.
Americans should be deeply concerned about the future of the rule of law.
Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images