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May 27, 2020

Minneapolis Cops: Will There Be Due Process for Everyone?

A black man died under the knee of a white cop, but “justice” demands due process for all involved.

“Now is not the time to rush to judgment and immediately condemn our officers.”

So said the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis in the wake of a disturbing video taken Monday evening that showed one of those officers pressing his knee on the neck of a prone and subdued crime suspect, 46-year-old George Floyd, while Floyd complains, “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd soon became unresponsive, but the officer continued to kneel on his neck as a crowd of onlookers pleaded for him to let the man breathe. Paramedics took Floyd away, but he was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The officers had responded to a call that evening about a fraudulent transaction at a local deli. According to a police statement, the officers were advised that the suspect “was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.” Upon arriving and locating the suspect, the statement added, “[Floyd] physically resisted officers.”

Reaction came quickly on Tuesday from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who took the extraordinary step of firing all four officers who were at the scene.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also weighed in with a straw man: “Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” he said. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help.” Reacting via Twitter to news that the four officers had been summarily fired, Frey said, “This is the right call.”

But is it? Perhaps the video evidence of the officers’ actions provided overwhelming evidence of their collective guilt, but cops suspected of wrongdoing are typically suspended or placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an actual investigation. We call this due process, and its history dates back to the Magna Carta. More recently, due process was spelled out in the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution, and it’s been one of the hallmarks of our American system of criminal justice ever since.

The video of George Floyd is indeed difficult to watch, and it reminds us of the 2014 arrest of Eric Garner, a black man who died in police custody in Staten Island after resisting arrest and being placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. (According to Garner’s autopsy, the chokehold led to a fatal asthma attack.)

A grand jury refused to indict the officer in question in the Garner case, a decision that led to widespread public protests. Garner’s family eventually received a $5.9 million settlement from New York City, however, and the officer in question was fired in 2019 after an NYPD disciplinary hearing. One might reasonably conclude, then, that justice was ultimately served on behalf of Eric Garner and his family.

That brings us back to Minneapolis, which last night saw plenty of civil unrest as protesters clashed with police and family members demanded that the officers be charged with murder.

Perhaps a murder charge will be forthcoming, and perhaps not. But regardless, we’d all be well served to remember that cops, too, are American citizens deserving of due process.

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