George Floyd died Monday evening. By Tuesday morning excruciating bystander-shot video of his death — a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck as he pleaded he could not breathe, other officers scoffing at witness entreaties — was viral on social media. By Tuesday afternoon, fewer than 24 hours after the black man’s death, the four officers (three white, one Asian) involved were fired. On Tuesday night a protest march turned violent, with property damage and tear gas used.
The city of Minneapolis acted correctly in dismissing the officers. But the firings are not enough.
Try a little thought experiment. Say that four men, three of them black, killed a white officer in public view and that a video recording of that death had been viewed by thousands. Would the authorities wait weeks to make arrests? Would the police union be pleading for the public to withhold judgment until the investigation, including the medical examiner’s report (expected in about a month), was complete? Nonsense.
As is customary in deaths involving police use of force, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating. One is tempted to put “investigating” in quotation marks because the BCA — fairly or otherwise — has a reputation for investigations that appear intended to clear fellow law enforcement officers. (The FBI is also involved in the Floyd investigation.)
It’s worth remembering that Mike Freeman, Hennepin County’s top prosecutor, privately complained about the quality of the investigation into the police shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.
The initial report filed by the officers on Floyd’s arrest reportedly left out the means by which they restrained him. This suggests that either they regarded it as insignificant or that they expect that excluding such inconvenient details will aid in the traditional whitewash — business as usual for the blue code of silence.
Officers who fatally misuse force — not just in Minnesota but nationally — typically merely lose their jobs but face no legal consequence. If the death of George Floyd has a similar outcome after a lengthy and opaque investigation, the tragedy will be compounded.