The knee… there it was… pressed hard against George Floyd’s neck as he lay prone on the ground, his hands cuffed in back.
‘Mama… please… I can’t breathe…’ said Floyd as he lay helpless, pinned in place by the pressure of the officer’s knee.
But the officer seemed deaf. He couldn’t hear the plight of the man he had completely neutralized. He couldn’t hear the call for help of a man who, at no point, had been a threat to him.
George Floyd had been drunk and had bought cigarettes with a fake 20 dollar bill. The store clerk called the cops.
George Floyd did not put up a fight, having allowed himself to be cuffed, but then objected to going in the back of the police car. So the officers pulled him out and George fell or was thrown to the ground.
And there he lay. With the officer’s knee taking away his life. Moment by moment.
The other officers, meanwhile, swirled around, not one of them, not a single one of them, having the common sense to tell the officer pressing down on Floyd’s neck to ease up, please, you might kill the man.
Ease up, you don’t know what kind of shape that man under you is in.
Ease up, you don’t know what damage you are inflicting.
Ease up, we’re here over a fake 20 dollar bill.
Ease up, the man under you hasn’t physically hurt anyone.
Ease up, please, because you might take his life away.
The other officers kept swirling about, just as onlookers videoed the scene and tried to persuade the officer pressing on Floyd’s neck to come to his senses, to please realize what he was doing.
But the officer didn’t get it.
And then George Floyd was dead.
It happened on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, a liberal American city, with excellent universities and sound institutions. A city with lots of good people.
But the accumulated wisdom of the city’s citizens had not passed through to the leadership of their police department.
For that officer’s knee to have stayed so long on George Floyd’s neck, that officer had to have demonized him. Yes, Floyd had to be a very bad man. He deserved to be punished on the spot. Never mind waiting for his day in court.
George Floyd had bought cigarettes with a 20 dollar fake bill, so that’s what you get for it in the city of Minneapolis, a knee on the back of your neck, so watch out people.
What the officer pinning George Floyd down chose to ignore, or never bothered to look into, or was never told about, or just wasn’t within his reach, was that as he demonized George Floyd he dehumanized himself.
None of the officers’ higher ups had made a point of making that clear, or maybe they thought that knees that pinned people down were good deterrents.
Maybe the Minneapolis police department had a department of psychology, maybe not. If they did, then they hadn’t been showing up. They hadn’t gone out to see the troops in action, and spot potential problems.
George Floyd was killed by an officer of the Minneapolis police department. It happened on Memorial Day, the 25th of May, 2020. Four days later, on the 29th , the officer was charged with murder and he began to be referred to as a former officer. But the whole department is responsible for George Floyd’s death.
The greatest fault ought to lie with the leadership. The ones at the very top. The ones entrusted with the task of thinking about the value of human beings, about the importance of not demonizing others.
It is very easy to single out the officer with the knee and put all the burden of wrongdoing on him.
To single him out is to divert attention from those who, having the responsibility of selecting and educating the officers, have failed to do their jobs.
It falls to the leaders of the department, to continually be reminding their troops that their task is to restrain, not punish, and that the more force at their disposal, the more careful they have to be so as not to inflict harm.
We’re all at risk for demonizing others. It’s the easier path. It does not require much thought.
The higher task, on the other hand, is to acknowledge the value of every human being, and as we do, we will likely find value in ourselves.
The officer pinning down George Floyd, had not found much to value in himself and so, he thought, there could not be much of value in George Floyd.
Oscar valdes is the author of ‘Psychiatrist for A Nation’, available on Amazon.