Chauvin Lost, but the Murderers Won

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The verdict is in. The murderers have won. On April 20, a jury of 12 people managed to swim against the tide of white supremacy, and convict Derek Chauvin of murdering a black man. That’s twelve votes for the party of human life.

But during the time of the trial, the party of murderers gained more votes than that. From the middle of March to the end of April, eight people of color, mostly African American, were killed by the police. They did this in teams, as if they were really serious about what they were doing. If there were at least two cops involved in each of these 8 killings (in some there were more), that makes at least 16 votes for murder against the 12 votes cast by the jury. Murder won, 16 – 12. If this had been an election, the party of murderers would have gained some seats. And the party of human life would remain a minority.

The murderers win even against the demonstrated voice of the people. For weeks in April, for months in 2020, for years during the 21st century, people have taken to the streets demanding that the police stop murdering people, and especially black people. Not only does it not stop, but the rate of killing goes up, as if to comfort the one taken to court.

Indeed, the court process even seems half-hearted. The city of Minneapolis couldn’t bring itself to charge premeditated murder, even though Chauvin took Floyd out of the hands of other cops in order to throw him on the street and kill him. “In order to” means with intention aforethought. That’s first degree murder. The prosecution tried to compensate for such hierarchical niceties by charging both 2nd and 3rd degree murder, figuring that half the world seeing him charged would be sufficient.

Sufficient for what? Certainly not sufficient to preserve human life in this society. Eight other people lost their lives to the same organization that was brought to trial in the person of Chauvin. In the shadow of that additional killing, the prosecution still had to play the jury odds, and go for 2nd degree murder rather than first. It won the bet, but lost the game. Second degree was sufficient to get 12 votes against a government agency that ceaselessly kills.

What kind of government ceaselessly kills its own people? Is that the government that many refer to as “our democracy”? In “this democracy,” the party of the murderers gains more seats in policy making than the party of human life. A society cannot be a democracy if its government goes around killing its own people.

The party of human life, which is the party on the street saying “stop,” lost more than an election. Here’s a list of what we lost — I know I have missed a few.

* Andrew Brown was killed in North Carolina by police serving a search warrant on 4/21. He was shot in the back of the head while sitting in his car. The cops keep changing their story – from search warrant to arrest warrant.

* Isaiah Brown was shot by a cop in Virginia, responding to a 911 call, on 4/21. He had his phone in his hand, because he was still on his 911 call talking to the police dispatcher, when the cops arrived and shot him. You can guess what they said about his phone.

* Adam Toledo was shot in Chicago on March 29. The video of his killing was released on 4/19, with three different stories. The cop yells, “show me your hands.” He shows his hands, which are empty, and dies by gunfire.

* A young girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot 4 times in Columbus, Ohio, standing around and arguing with other kids on the street, on April 2. She was shot without warning. It took the cop 4 seconds to kill her. Just another black girl, killed because a cop thought he saw a knife. Bullets, not words; the cops don’t think they can talk to black people without yelling at them, or giving commands.

* Daunte Wright was traffic-stopped for an air freshener hanging on his rearview mirror on 4/11, in a Minneapolis suburb. The story went from arbitrary stop to tail light to expired registration to bench warrant to … Too many stories to count on this one, especially the one about a cop mistaking a gun for a taser after 26 years on the force.

* Peyton Alexander Ham shot and killed, in Maryland, for having a BB gun on his lap, on 4/13. Ditto on the stories.

* Mario Gonzalez, harassed by police in Alameda, CA, on 4/27, doing nothing but standing around in a little park area. Two cops talk to him, but only to set him up for handcuffing. When he resists, they throw him down and he dies (a replay of Kayla Moore, re-enacted in public). The story that keeps changing is the alleged content of the 911 calls that the cops allegedly got.

* Anthony Alvarez was shot in Chicago in March, but the video was only released on 4/28. While dying, he asks, “why are you shooting me?” Ditto.

* Caron Nazario, in army camo uniform, is threatened with guns at a gas station in Windsor, VA, on 4/10. He wasn’t shot at, maybe because he mentioned he was on active duty. But you can’t point a loaded gun at someone without having that person’s death in your mind.

The police explanations all look alike. Toledo had a gun. Bryant had a knife. Andrew Brown had a knife, and drove his car threateningly at officers. Isaiah Brown had a gun. Peyton Ham had a gun. Alvarez had a gun. Caron Nazario had an attitude, and fled a traffic stop. Is this a crisis of reportage, or what?

Along with police reportage of the weapons they confront at every turn, they now even provide audio subtitles, voiced in the background of their lapel videos: “stop resisting,” “drop your weapon,” “show me your hands,” “get on the ground,” “get out of your car,” etc. We hear it even when it isn’t relevant. You can’t resist with two cops sitting on you. Nazario said he couldn’t get out of his car because it would mean unbuckling his seatbelt, and he was afraid they would see that motion as “reaching for a weapon” and shoot him.

Talk about crisis! They say that every crisis is a result of over-production. The Great Depression of 1929 was caused by an over-production of debt. The crash of 2008 was caused by an over production of subprime mortgages and their derivatives (mortgage-backed securities). The affordable housing crisis now suffered by low income people (displacement and exile from one’s hometown) is caused by an over-production of market rate housing and landlord opportunism in raising rents.

The police crisis is caused by an over-production of death. When government kills its own people (around 1100 a year, averaging around 3 a day), you have a police state. There’s an f-word for that.

And here’s what that f-word looks like. The cop who shot Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020, has been put back on police duty. He’s back out on the street, wearing a gun, and walking around with the departmental commendation for having pumped 7 slugs into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI  — for no other reason than that Blake was not paying attention to him.

One might think that Chauvin was messed up mentally, with that icy stare in his eyes, knowing that what he was doing simply meant waiting for the man under his knee to turn into a thing. But think about the cop shooting Blake. He came upon a scene in Kenosha, and without asking anyone what was going on, pulled his gun and decided Blake was his target. Blake was walking to his car. Was he chosen as a target through some form of robotics, or AI, or obsession?

As Blake gets to his car to check on the well-being of his three kids sitting in it, this cop runs up to him, grabs his tee-shirt, and shoots him in the back 7 times.

Why did he have his gun out? Was it because he was a white cop in a black neighborhood? Surrounded by black people? Is that the automatic way the cops handle something like that? Now, he’s back on the street, with honorary membership in the murderers party, which amounts to approval that he did the right thing, and looking for his next “Blake.”

Jacob Blake was in his own neighborhood. He knew the people around there. There had been an argument between two women, both of whom he knew. He got out of his car and intervened in the argument, to de-escalate, to be care-giving, as membership in the human life party advocates. A cop arrives, and decides all on his own to follow his own machinic agenda.

It doesn’t matter what that agenda might have been; it was not based on the scene he came upon. He orders Blake to do something. It doesn’t matter what. When Blake keeps walking toward his car, going about his business, that act has been made into a crime. The cop has single-handedly made that a crime by giving Blake a command. The crime is disobedience, and it is what got all the other people on the list above shot and killed.

But the cop’s assumption is weird. By giving Blake a command, he has shifted Blake from being a member of civil society to being enlisted in a military organization. It is only in military style organizations that an enlisted person must instantly obey all orders given them by an officer. When a cop can punish a person for ignoring a direct order where no law enforcement is in process (which means no observable crime is being committed), that cop has shifted the person from civil society to military society without consent.

But it is not just any kind of militarized society. When the cop chasing Adam Toledo demanded that he stop and “show your hands,” Toledo stopped, turned around with his hands in the air, plainly visible, doing what the cop demanded. And the cop shot him. In other words, the cop’s commands were simply to change a moving target into a stationary target. That is what the f-word refers to. There is no sanctuary from it.

This is not “our democracy.” There is no democracy in a military organization. You take orders, period.

Blake didn’t pay attention to this cop standing in the middle of the street. The cop follows him to his car, which amounts to stalking in any law abiding society, and shoots him. Now, the cop is back out on the street, with license to do it again. It is police logic that assumes he will do it again. That’s why the cops are so adamant about taking criminals off the street, so that they won’t commit another crime.

Well, that explains why we have so many murdering cops. They get left out on the street.

After clearing the cop to go back on duty, the police chief in Kenosha said the officer “acted within the law and was consistent with training. … [He] was found to have been acting within policy and will not be subjected to discipline.” There you have it. By shooting a man in the back, the  cop was acting according to the law and according to police policy. It is not an accident; it is not a response to crisis; it is policy. That makes it premeditated.

However, the law that says a cop can shoot a man legitimately in the back is not a law that civil society lives by. We beg to differ. It is a law only the police live by. The next time a cop says anything about law enforcement, remember that the law for them is a different law than the law for us.

However, what kind of unbalanced mind could think that shooting someone in the back would transform them from being disobedience into someone who will follow orders? When you shoot someone, obedience becomes totally irrelevant, a non-issue. To kill someone to make them obey is nuts. And Chauvin has proven that you don’t even need a gun to be that obsessed.

But who do we become that we can’t take their guns away from them? The short answer is, we don’t have the power. We are subservient to the police. And we are stuck with mayors and judges and other cops who tell the police that belonging to the murderer’s party is okay.

Mario Gonzalez was simply walking around alone in a little park, not bothering any one. No crime was being committed, except for the one he “committed” by not being a white man. When they arrive, the police engage him in conversation, as if they could assume that he would trust them, as if the police have no history of violence against people of color. And sure enough, for unstated reasons, and with no regard for the absence of any need for law enforcement, they decide they are going to handcuff him (in violation of the Constitution – a deprivation without due process). Thus, they deprive him of his humanity (aka human rights). He resists. The cops actually talk to each other about having to “take him down.” They do so, and in the process, he dies.

A solitary harmless man is swept off the face of the earth because of the arbitrary and biased assault by agents of the government. Once again, with semi-religious eugenic fervor, agents of “their democracy” decide who will live and who will not live.

Who do we become, with police like this? We have an evaluation to make. In the week following Chauvin’s conviction for murder, the cops in the US have killed more black people. Do the police, as individuals born in this society and raised by it, represent it? Or do we represent them? Under whose auspices do they become monsters bent on killing people?

Do you think that is a harsh judgment? Show me the cops who have dedicated themselves to ending all police murders in the US.

Steve Martinot is Instructor Emeritus at the Center for Interdisciplinary Programs at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance, Forms in the Abyss: a Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (both Temple) and The Machinery of Whiteness. He is also the editor of two previous books, and translator of Racism by Albert Memmi. He has written extensively on the structures of racism and white supremacy in the United States, as well as on corporate culture and economics, and leads seminars on these subjects in the Bay Area.