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Roaming Charges: The Eyes of Derek Chauvin

 

I’ve watched all of the footage of George Floyd’s murder. I’ve seen the crime from every angle. From body cameras and cellphones. I’ve looked at hundreds of still photos. I’ve listened to the audio dozens of times. Still, I cringe, horrified by the scene taking place before my eyes, even though I know how it will end, know every twitch of Floyd’s body, hear every desperate plea, each gasp for air.

Rarely have we been confronted with such intimate scenes of our mortality. Of just how long it takes to kill a living being, the pressure needed to crush the life out of someone, the moral indifference required to kneel on a person’s throat and feel the life drain out of them, breath by breath, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, as the lungs stop working, the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing. We are used to unexpected death coming suddenly: in a gunshot, a car crash, a drone strike. Even in the most blood-soaked films, we’ve never watched a strangulation that goes on for more than a couple of minutes. For example, the garroting of Luca Brasi in The Godfather, a scene which seems interminable, lasts only 28 seconds. And often, in the movies at least, the strangler will look at their hands in a kind of despair, as if they’d lost control of their body, thinking what have I done?

Not Derek Chauvin. Derek Chauvin never lost control. Not for one moment. He didn’t question himself. He didn’t let his emotions show. If he had, maybe George Floyd would have lived. If he had allowed himself to feel the anguish in Floyd’s voice, the tremors in his body, he might have lost his self-control. He might have let up the pressure on Floyd’s throat for just a moment. He might have responded emotionally, empathetically, man to man, being to being. Surely, most of us would have flinched viscerally at the dying body beneath us. At least it’s comforting to think so. But not Derek Chauvin. He remained implacable, immune to all of the instinctual reflexes that most of us like to believe make up the human psyche.

Derek Chauvin never lost control. He wasn’t the officer who arrested George Floyd on a petty complaint about a fake $20 bill. He wasn’t the officer who pulled his gun and screamed profanities at an obviously frightened, non-threatening man. He didn’t place the cuffs on so tightly they cut into the wrists and slowed the blood flow to Floyd’s hands. Chauvin didn’t shove Floyd into the cramped backseat of the police cruiser, ignoring his anxiety about being trapped in such a confined space. Chauvin didn’t brutally hurl Floyd to the street. Chauvin didn’t lose his cool. He didn’t raise his voice. He remained calm, as he got on top of Floyd, jammed his knee into his throat, and pinned his body to the pavement, pressing it down, squeezing the veins and arteries shut. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted as the crowd shouted at him, as Floyd’s lungs writhed for breath, as the EMTs searched for a pulse, finding none.  As he released his knee from Floyd’s lifeless body, his expression didn’t change. He remained in control.

Isn’t that the scariest part? It is for me. Derek Chauvin didn’t act on impulse. He didn’t act out of fear. He didn’t act out of anger or in response to a threat against his own life. He didn’t make a split-second decision. He didn’t let his emotions get the better of him.

Derek Chauvin was in control. That’s why the other officers didn’t intervene. He wasn’t acting out of line. He wasn’t ranting. He wasn’t verbally taunting Floyd. He wasn’t beating him. He wasn’t letting any of the chaotic circumstances get under his skin. He was steady, just keeping the pressure on, minute after minute, calmly responding to Floyd’s frantic plea that he couldn’t breathe by saying with not even the faintest edge to his voice: “Then stop talking, stop yelling. It takes heck of a lot of oxygen to talk.” That’s what cold-blooded murder looks and sounds like. It’s methodical. It’s clinical. It’s emotionally detached.

So the question is: was Derek Chauvin born this way or was this learned behavior. Was he born to kill or trained to? All of those latter-day eugenicists proclaiming the existent of a “violence” gene would do well to scrutinize his DNA profile. But in a sense it hardly matters. Derek Chauvin was the kind of police officer America wanted. One who didn’t get distracted. One who had a method and followed it. One who didn’t get ruffled. One who wasn’t impetuous or boisterous or overtly racist. One who didn’t lose his cool One stayed in control.

Now they want to wash their hands of him and his methods. Now they want to say he was a rogue cop, a rule-breaker, a bad officer, a sadist, a vigilante. They can cut him adrift, lock him up, isolate him. But they can’t wipe away the truth. Derek was one of them. He was no rookie. He had roamed the streets for 19 years. He was a known quantity. If the police didn’t create Derek Chauvin, they recruited him, rewarded his methods, admired his calm demeanor, placed him in control.

I return one more time to the fatal footage. I pause the video and scan his face, looking for something, anything that might explain how he could do what he did. But when you gaze into the eyes of Derek Chauvin, as he squeezes the last breath out of a human being under his total control, you see nothing. And that nothingness looks right back at you.

***

+ Prosecutor: “This case is State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin, not the state of Minnesota vs. the police. Policing is a noble profession…This is not an anti-police prosecution. It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

+ The decision to try Chauvin separately, and defer the prosecution of the other officers involved in the murder of George Floyd until later this year, helped the prosecutors paint Chauvin as an outlier, a rogue cop who had grossly transgressed the traditions, training and procedures of his police department.

+ Deploying the National Guard in advance of a jury verdict in a killer cop case probably isn’t the best way to reassure people that the government has gotten the message and is ready to embrace a de-escalation of violent policing…

+ Putting more police officers behind bars for their crimes will be the fastest route to systemic prison reform.

+ Brooklyn Center, the Minneapolis suburb where the Daunte Wright was murdered by police, was founded by a member of the KKK..

+ Police in Minnesota detained journalists covering BLM protests last week, forced them to the ground and took pictures of their faces. The crackdown took place shortly after a judge issued a restraining order against police seizing cameras, audio recorders and press passes from reporters.

+ From Stop and Frisk to Stop and Sniff

+ Good news: the Biden administration will no longer refer to migrants as “illegal aliens.” Bad news: they’ll still deport you and lock up your children.

+ According to the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Even with a 10% cut, the US defense budget will still be more than the next 8 eight countries’ budgets put together. Without intervention, the Pentagon will spend an additional $1.2 trillion to rebuild every missile, bomber, submarine, and warhead in the US nuclear arsenal.” Instead of a 10% cut, Biden is calling for a 2% increase.

+ The polling is pretty clear. Nearly everyone, regardless of political affiliation, wants the US out of Afghanistan. Nearly seven-in010 Americans support the Biden’s pledge to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, while just 16% in opposed. More than half of all Republicans support the move.

+ The Golden Rule, Citizen United version…Since 2009, a dozen “mega-donors” have invested $3.4 billion in US politicians, nearly one out of every 13 dollars donated to political campaigns.

+ In an electric column for the Washington Post, Cornel West eviscerated the administrators at Howard University for their soulless decision to terminate the university’s classics department:

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.

+ I’ve been helping a friend study for their US citizenship test and the acceptable answers for question #58 seem to leave out one very conspicuous reason why many people came to the colonies…

58. What is one reason colonists came to America?

▪ freedom
▪ political liberty
▪ religious freedom
▪ economic opportunity
▪ practice their religion
▪ escape persecution

+ So you want to learn how to be a “Silicon Valley intellectual“? Pretty simply, really: Just talk like an asshole, walk your talk and fire or sue everybody that calls you one…

+ Photo of the week. A female jaguar and her two cubs being released into Argentina’s Iberá National Park…

+ You knew that Montana’s felonious Governor Greg Gianforte (a two-time offender) was going to sign a bill expanding the hunting and snaring of wolves, but that awareness doesn’t make the reality of it any less disgusting…

+ Meanwhile, a Senate committee in the Idaho statehouse just approved a bill which calls for the slaughter of up to 90% of the wolves currently populating the state. Call it what it is: genocide by legislative decree.

+ I’ve long predicted that one day the animal welfare movement would move to intervene in predator-prey relationships in the wild in an attempt to alleviate suffering among prey species. That day appears to have arrived

+ According to a “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association, 4-in-10 Americans live in counties where the air is so toxic it could do permanent damage to your lungs. Among the worst: Fairbanks, Alaska and Los Angeles.

+ Doctor Moreau, I presume? The EPA has just approved the released into the Florida Keys of the first horde of genetically-engineered mosquitoes.

+ A new study published in Nature Communications suggests that climate change is dramatically decreasing male fertility across the spectrum of species and that fertility rates are one of the best predictors of the likelihood of extinction rates caused by global warming. The study of tropical fruit flies showed that the temperature at which males could no longer reproduce was much lower than the temperatures that killed them.

+ The Clackamas River road, which meanders the western divide between Mount Hood to the north and Mount Jefferson to the south, used to be one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the Pacific Northwest (which means anywhere in the world), has now been butchered in the name of fire prevention by Oregon Department of Transportation, a rogue agency with a villainous history of ecological malfeasance ….

+ New research conducted by my old friends Chad Hanson and Monica Bond shows conclusively that post-fire logging is much more of a threat to northern spotted owls than the fires themselves….

+ Canada is now down to three spotted owls in the wild and we’ll be there soon here unless Biden immediately halts the logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest…

+ Last Friday night I got what I thought was an alarmist alert on my iPhone that the Portland area was under a fire warning for the next few days, a result of low humidity, high temps (80-ish) and strong east winds pouring out of the Columbia Gorge. Then on Saturday afternoon a big fire erupted right here in Oregon City. It’s mid-April. In Western Oregon. Maybe it’s happened before. But I don’t remember it…

Smoke from Oregon City forest fire. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ As ranches, logging operations, mines, and tourist resorts gobble up their former habitat and Ivory poachers haunt their migration routes, the range of African elephants has shrunk to just 17 percent of what it could be.

+ The discovery that Tryannosaurs hunted in packs (not as solo predators) may bolster efforts to restore the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments to their original size, which Trump slashed by 85 percent. The reason? Both areas are littered with similar fossil sites and are vulnerable to excavation by private collectors and looters.

+ Despite spending billions, the effort to remove “space junk” is not going very well, according to a report in Scientific American. Perhaps because Elon Musk keeps putting more up junk every week…

+ Some say the world will end with a bang, others a whimper. But it may be the mad rush to produce biomass energy that finally pushes it over the edge…

+ The Great Carbon Offsets Scam, brought to you by The Nature Conservancy…

+ The unravelling of Philip Roth’s biographer, Blake Bailey, has all the makings of a Roth novel, like The Humbling or Sabbath’s Theater. Facing a tsunami of claims about sexual abuse, caddish behavior and the alleged rape of a New York publishing executive, after a dinner at the home of the New York Times’ book critic, Dwight Garner, Bailey was dropped by his literary agency and Norton halted the reprinting of his widely-reviewed biography. (Norton seems to have known about the rape claim for a while and only acted after it became public.) One of the allegations against Bailey (which he and his lawyers deny) is that during his time as a Middle School Teacher in Louisiana, he engaged in the sexual grooming of 8th graders. Perhaps Woody Allen should have tapped Bailey to become his biographer?

+ When Nora met James: “At first, I mistook him for a Swedish sailor – his electric blue eyes, yachting cap and plimsolls. But when he spoke, well then, I knew him at once for just another Dublin jackeen chatting up a country girl.”

+ Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as the greatest fictional detective? Surely, you jest, Monsieur. If not Oepidus, then the honor has to go to Jules Maigret

+ Very funny conversation between Paul Krassner and Jerry Garcia, in Eugene, 1984. Both had apparently spent a good portion of the day sampling Oregon’s chief agricultural product…

+In 1975, a reporter asked John Lennon why so many adults hated rock and roll and referred to it the “devil’s music.”  Lennon replied: “I always thought that it’s because it came from Black music.”

+ I watched Wise Blood on Sunday night. I’d gone to the premier in 1979 at the old Silver Theater, an art deco movie palace in Silver Spring, Maryland. One of my profs was an O’Connor scholar and had been a script consultant on the film. But we know what John Huston (or “Jhon,” as he stubbornly refers to himself in the credits) thought of them and the old man didn’t make an appearance. Amy Wright and Brad Dourif showed up and Dourif looked as weird as he did in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, a rail-thin body with crooked angles and darting eyes. Amy Wright never became a “star”, but she had some great roles in a two year period (78-80): Deer Hunter, Breaking Away, Heartland (where she met Rip Torn, who she later married), Wise Blood, Stardust Memories and Inside Moves.  I remember not liking the film very much then and it didn’t grow on me much on second viewing, despite the great performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Ned Beatty, as two species of sidewalk southern preacher/con men. The problem isn’t with Huston’s restrained, almost mannered direction. It’s O’Connor who leaves me cold, especially when her gothic stories of perversity and religious angst are stretched out to novel length. Wise Blood is set in the post-war period, but Macon, Georgia in the 70s was still an impoverished city, which hadn’t fully recovered from the ravages of Sherman, never mind the Depression. These days the sidewalk preachers have all moved inside and are fleecing their congregations in churches the size of the Super Dome.

Amy Wright and Harry Dean Stanton in Wise Blood.

+ Next up was Lacombe, Lucien, Louis Malle’s 1972 film about a teenager in occupied rural France in search of power over circumstance that are constantly slipping from his control. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and had wanted to watch it again after reading many of Patrick Modiano’s books. (Modiano and Malle wrote the screenplay, though it turns out the film, subject matter aside, is nothing like his elliptical novels). Though intricately constructed and lusciously shot by the Italian cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, it’s a very hard film to like, because Lucien himself is so despicable, from beginning (torturing animals, snitching out teachers and Jews to the Gestapo) to his final heroic, yet intensely, selfish act (as acts of heroism often are). Still, the anticipation of another scene with Aurore Clement proved enough incentive to keep watching to the closing credits. I didn’t really know much about the Carlingue, despite having walked by its former headquarters on the Rue Lauriston the last time we were in Paris, and getting a faint chill when reading the plaque about the atrocities they committed. (So many of the plaques in Paris memorialize the resistance martyrs, so few identify their murderers, who often lived right next door.) The film is a harrowing portrait this strange gang of killers, terrorists and profiteers. Banality of evil? Most of these guys were a band of the sub-banal–street thugs, beat cops and their snitches who, after they assumed the identity of a French Gestapo, where suddenly mingling with the likes of Artletty and Louis Vuitton. Of course, most of the Carlingue ended up facing firing squads, as part of France’s ritual cleansing after the war, while the celebrity collaborators saw their wealth soar. As proof of their devotion to the Vichy Regime, the Vuitton family actually devoted an entire factory to the production of busts of Petain and now their logo (even if the handbags, sunglasses and luggage are Indonesian knock-offs you can pick up cheap in Chinatown) is a status symbol. When I see someone walking around with Vuitton luggage or purses, I imagine the leather being made of human skin. Arletty, who was convicted of treason and then pardoned, barely missed a close-up, even starring as Blanche in a French version of Streetcar Named Desire and as Inès, in the 1954 film of Sartre’s No Exit.

+ When Duke met Jimmy Blanton and the band began to swing…

+ On Marianne Faithfull, who has survived everything the planet has thrown at her and is still kicking ass:

You don’t want to get this (ie, COVID), darling,” she said. “Really.” She said it, of course, in That Voice, coated with ash but flickering with lively defiance underneath. As it’s matured — cracked and ripened like a well-journeyed face — Faithfull’s voice has come to possess a transfixing magic. It’s a voice that sounds like it has come back from somewhere, and found a way to collapse present and past. She can find the Weimar Berlin decadence in Dylan, or breathe William Blake’s macabre into a Metallica song.

+ Not too long ago, I wrote that using Twitter as a political tool was like organizing on a trap door. Well, that door finally opened on me and swallowed up my account. For the past two weeks, I’ve been locked out. No explanation given, no avenue of appeal open. So, if you’re looking for me in those argumentative precincts, I’m not there, as Dylan warbled, I’m gone…

The Eye Receives the Messages and Sends Them to the Brain

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Standoff: Standing Rock, the Bundy Movement and the American Story of Sacred Lands
Jacqueline Keeler
(Torrey House)

Morbid Symptoms: An Anatomy of a World in Crisis
Donald Sassoon
(Verso)

Public Reading Followed by Discussion
Danielle Mémoire
Trans. KE Gormley
(Dalkey Archive)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Descension (Out of Our Constrictions)
Natural Information Society featuring Evan Parker
(Eremite)

They’re Calling Me Home
Rhiannon Giddens
(Nonesuch)

Calm Down Cologne
Garage a Trois
(The Royal Potato)

Every Other Consideration was Secondary

“The ultimate aim of Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules–one must be a good relative. No Dakota who has participated in that life will dispute that. In the last analysis, every other consideration was secondary: property, personal ambition, glory, good times, life itself. Without that aim and the constant struggle to attain it, the people would no longer be Dakotas. In truth, they would no longer even be human.” (Ella Deloria, Speaking of Indians)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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