No one with a brain can look at the video of the Minneapolis cops putting their weight on George Floyd’s entire body, including a knee to his neck, and see his resulting death as anything but murder. The first autopsy cited pre-existing health conditions as a contributing factor in Floyd’s death. The second autopsy found Floyd’s death to be murder due to his carotid artery being crushed, cutting off blood flow to his brain. The official coroner seems to have come around to the murder conclusion, but regardless, those cops killed a man for passing a counterfeit 20-dollar bill; and because he’s dead, we can’t even find out if Floyd knowingly did so.
Were the cops indifferent to Floyd’s pain because of racism? I don’t know, and no one else does, either. The cop with his knee on Floyd’s neck is obviously responsible for Floyd’s death. The other cops, who did nothing to alleviate Floyd’s suffering when he complained that he couldn’t breathe, are at least culpable in the murder. Three of the cops are identified as Caucasian and one is identified as Asian. It seems that the color of the cops is all that many need, apparently with absolute certainty, to know that Floyd’s death was due to racism on the part of the cops.
One thing I do know, though, is that cops – law enforcement in general – kill too many people. Four years ago, John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, who happens to be black and is no conservative by any means, wrote an article for Time magazine entitled “Police Kill Too Many People—White and Black.” He points out that he had, for some time, asked for evidence that whites were dying in the same way as the offensive black deaths at the hands of cops, being convinced of systemic racism in police ranks. Then, somebody obliged. His article describes three senseless deaths of whites at the hands of cops. Then he points out, “The men in these cases were white, not black, and yet all three were killed by police officers under circumstances that would almost surely have elicited indignant protest nationwide if they were black.”
Watch Netflix’s Waco miniseries. Most of the scores of Branch Davidians who died were white and included women and children. You’ll see accurate depictions of law enforcement authorities lying outright only to cover their own misjudgments and culpability in their improper exercise of government’s police powers. None of that had to do with racism although lots of innocent people died.
We’ve all seen the videos of police arresting someone and roughing them up, putting on handcuffs too tightly, kicking their legs, slamming them against a car, and then when the individual attempts to protect himself, the cops pummel him and tack on “resisting arrest” to the charges. I personally don’t believe many policemen are racist. I do believe, however, that a significant number of them are bullies. Some of them are even cowards. For many, their police culture reinforces bully behavior.
In 2016, a white female police officer in Oklahoma fatally shot an unarmed black man, who was acting erratically and had drugs in his system. He was big, too. But, there was a white male officer right there with her, aiming a Taser, and who never discharged his weapon. Likely, she fired because she was scared, not because she was racist. She should have been convicted of manslaughter, but she was acquitted completely. It probably is a “white thing” to give police officers the benefit of the doubt.
We have a cop problem in this country. A relatively small number of bullying and cowardly cops are giving everyone else a bad name. But how does this minority of officers stick around? Reports have come out that the cop who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck had well over a dozen complaints against him. He apparently was never so much as formally reprimanded. Why not?
The mayor of St. Paul* (the son of a retired police officer and black), in a rambling answer to an interview question Sunday morning, identified the problem. Union contracts make it difficult to fire or discipline police officers. All union contracts for public employees make it difficult to hold public employees accountable, whether police officers, firemen, teachers, or any other unionized position.
Our elected officials and the people they appoint owe their entire allegiance to taxpayers as a whole, regardless of election turnout, and regardless of who helped to pay for their campaigns. That allegiance is called a fiduciary duty, an obligation to absolutely act in the best interest of all citizens. It’s a high standard. But when an elected official’s paramount consideration is to insure victory in the next election, or to favor a supporter, or to favor an organization that organizes on the official’s behalf, that official isn’t coming close to meeting the fiduciary obligation. And frankly, anything short of meeting that fiduciary duty is a corrupt act.
That’s where unions come in. Local government elections often occur on unexpected and under-publicized dates, resulting in abysmal voter turnout. That means only a small number of votes can swing an election outcome. Therefore, public employee union activity can easily make the difference in local elections. Prevailing officials naturally (though improperly) feel they owe their position to union activity, and they act accordingly, acceding to favorable contract terms for union employees. After all, the union employees essentially hired their employer. Thus, the employer (elected official) acts against the interests of taxpayers in general, an absolute breach of the fiduciary duty.
Two policy changes are badly needed in Oklahoma. All elections should be held on no more than two or three standard election dates, and public officials should be prohibited from negotiating and signing collective bargaining contracts. Right now, it is entirely possible that an election could be held somewhere in Oklahoma every single month of the year. There is simply no way to “fix” public employee union collective bargaining. It has to be ended.
Even with standardized election dates increasing general turnout and dissipating union voting, unions will influence elections. Their influence intentionally has the effect of breaching a fiduciary duty to all taxpayers in general. Even without collective bargaining, employees can still associate in an organization and might seek to influence their bosses, but the kind of corruption (like when bad cops aren’t fired) that comes with public employee collective bargaining would be less common.
Would this completely solve the problems with race we have in this country today? No, not when you have race-baiting ideologues at the New York Times pushing a historically inaccurate and purposely provocative narrative handed over to schools that, sheep-like, dutifully teach it as fact. And not as long as race baiters sell false narratives to what has clearly become a hyper-sensitized subset of a community who interpret every cross look and every stop by a policeman as an overt act of racism.
A scene in The Mule depicts a Hispanic man, pulled over because his vehicle matches a description, saying a police stop “is statistically the most dangerous five minutes” for a minority like him. Based on what teachers say of their minority students’ beliefs, these kinds of erroneous “facts” are common and a source of feelings of persecution. Maybe we should all share our experiences with being stopped for the most minor of traffic infractions just so a bored police officer can size us up. It might just be that the experiences of people of different ethnicities aren’t all that different, like McWhorter’s discovery about people being shot by cops, most of whom, I’m betting, belong to unions.
*An earlier version of this blog incorrectly identified him as the mayor of Minneapolis.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.