What struck me was the hand in or around the left pocket of Officer Dereck Chauvin’s trousers. I can’t quite make out if the hand was actually in the pocket or just around the pocket area. To be sure his knee on the neck of Mr. George Floyd was among the things that killed Mr. Floyd, that and being placed in the prone position and his underlying health issues. But it was the hand in or around the left pocket of the man who was doing the kneeling, Officer Chauvin, that caught my attention. He placed his hand just so, all the while kneeling on the neck of a man who was clearly cornered and did not pose a threat whatsoever, handcuffed as he was. By kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck without touching other parts of his body for support, Officer Chauvin ensured that his full weight, his body mass, was placed on Mr. Floyd’s neck and was not distributed elsewhere on his body. But it is more than just the physics of it. That hand, placed as it was in or around the left pocket as he slowly but surely took the life of Mr. Floyd, that right there told the full story—the real story, as it were. It was a gesture at once domineering and callous—a detached viciousness, an arrogance, a lack of empathy. “I will give you what you deserve,” he seemed to be saying, “and I won’t even bother touching you.” “I will watch you beg for breath, for life itself, and I will not bother touching you. I will have you feel the full weight of the power that I have over you, the full weight of a grown man on you—your neck. I will have you by the neck—literally and I will not even so much as touch you.”
Over the past several years, I have watched in horror, as have people around the world, as one black man after another in the United States has needlessly lost his life at the hands of the police or, as the case may be, a fellow citizen playing police officer. The list of black men—black people—who have lost their lives at the hands of the police keeps growing: Trayvon Martin in 2012, Michael Brown Jr. in 2014, Eric Garner in 2014, Tamir Rice in 2014, Laquan McDonald in 2014, Walter Scott in 2015, Freddie Gray in 2015, Philando Castille in 2016. And we know of these incidents because they were either captured on video or have received media attention somehow. What about all the other incidents, possibly many other incidents that we do not know of? Black men are not safe on the streets; black people are not safe even in their own homes, just ask the family of Botham Jean, who was shot in his own apartment as he ate a bowl of ice cream. The family of Breona Taylor, who was shot while in her own apartment, is still seeking answers.
In 2020 so far, we have had two incidents that we know of because they have been reported on by the national media: the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and now the death of Mr. Floyd. Thanks to a new video just released today, we now know that two of the three other officers at the scene also knelt on some part of Mr. Floyd’s body. You heard that right. At some point in the last approximately 9 minutes of his life, Mr. Floyd had three grown men crushing his body as he lay on his belly. Officer Chauvin pressed on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and he continued to kneel on his neck for 3 minutes after Mr. Floyd was unresponsive. We also learned today that after a night of protest during which parts of Minneapolis were burned, including a police precinct, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has charged Officer Chauvin with third-degree murder and manslaughter. For those of us who would like to see justice served in this case, it is a step in the right direction. But will justice prevail? To answer this question, we must go back to the actions of Officer Chauvin.
And it all goes back to that hand in or around the pocket, and the posture it created; it will forever be baked into my psyche. Growing up a black African male, I knew that placing one’s hand in the pocket was a preening gesture if there ever was one, a form of one-upmanship. It was certainly something one never did around adults, not without consequence anyway. And so as I watched the video of Mr. Floyd pinned to the ground, gasping for air, pleading to be allowed to breathe, even crying out for his mama, I couldn’t help but also notice Officer Chauvin’s hand in or around the left pocket of his trousers as he knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck while looking quizzically at Mr. Floyd and asking him—incredulously—what he wanted. As the people around grew concerned and pleaded on behalf of Mr. Floyd while capturing the incident on video, Officer Chauvin turned and looked right at the camera, his hand still in or around the left pocket of his trousers. His face was expressionless, but his entire posture said a lot—a whole lot. He was defiant; he was impudent. He knew he could do what he was doing, get filmed while doing it, and get away with it. And this is true. He and the other three officers at the scene, all of whom have been fired, could very well get away with it. Just like Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice, Derek Chauvin may even get another job in law enforcement elsewhere by the time all this is over.