Six days after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, asphyxiating him by keeping his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, America is still burning with outrage. Violent clashes have broken out across the nation as the killing has proven to be a catalyst for protests against a racist justice system.
While some in media have condemned the protests as violent “looters” imposing “tyranny” upon the country, much of the violence is being deliberately instigated and propagated by an out of control police force that appears to have gone berserk over the widespread public challenge to their authority and their impunity to act as they wish.
— Pierre G. (@pgarapon) May 31, 2020
NYPD hitting a protestor with a car door in BK. Wow it’s almost like this isn’t really about protecting the public. pic.twitter.com/9DTIv1QYe9
— Zeeshan Aleem (@ZeeshanAleem) May 30, 2020
In New York City, videos have emerged of multiple incidents of NYPD cars plowing into protestors. Demonstrators in Brooklyn had placed a yellow road barrier between themselves and a stationary police car. A second police cruiser accelerates into the crowd, knocking multiple people to the ground before fleeing. The first car follows suit, driving into yet more people. On Saturday evening, a second incident involving the NYPD driving into crowds of protestors also occurred.
Escalating police brutality
A common police tactic in protest situations is to escalate the violence themselves, hoping demonstrators will respond in kind, giving them an excuse to use even more excessive force. At the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, police intentionally verbally, physically and sexually assaulted the smallest, oldest and weakest women in an attempt to provoke violent reactions, according to former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges.
The tactic appears to be in operation across the country. Memphis police were caught singling out a woman from a crowd, shouting “get the girl in the grey hoodie” before swarming her. In Salt Lake City, police threw an elderly man with a cane to the ground. In Seattle, cops brutalized a protester, one officer leaning his knee on the man’s neck in exactly the same manner as Chauvin used to kill Floyd. In Houston, a mounted police officer trampled a female bystander looking the other way, as the horse advanced into a seemingly peaceful, passive crowd. In Minneapolis, researcher Tanya Kersson shared video footage of amped up police attacking her on her own property, firing at her and her house. Before doing so, an officer can be heard giving the order to “light ‘em up,” an expression used by the military when bombing the Middle East. Back in New York City, images emerged of police assaulting a young woman, Dounya Zayer, shouting that she was a “stupid fucking bitch,” before throwing her to the ground. Footage shows she was quickly backing up, attempting to avoid confrontation. Zayer ended up in the hospital due to her injuries. Cops in Erie, PA, were caught on camera kicking a young girl lying in the street in the face. The reason, according to protesters, she was lying in the street covering her face was that she had been hit with tear gas.
Power and prestige appear to be no shield from police violence. Hollywood actor John Cusack was also attacked. Police officers reacted to him filming a burning car by running at him with batons and hitting his bike. TV producer Andrew Kimmel alleges that Minneapolis police slashed the tires on his car, as well as those of every other one in the parking lot. Multiple elected officials have also reported being attacked by police. Video of all these events has been included below.
I’m headed home. I live downtown. I walked down to the protest. @ldtestino is driving me home. Several blocks of Downtown have been shut down by police.
— Desiree Stennett (@Desi_Stennett) May 31, 2020
Salt Lake City cops shove down an elderly man with a cane for the crime of standing along the street: pic.twitter.com/PCLkHqQtJg
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) May 31, 2020
After a Seattle officer put his knee on the neck of someone he was helping arrest tonight, observers shouted for him to stop. Then the other officer reached over and physically pulled his partner's knee off the neck. https://t.co/lrLowpnXa3
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) May 31, 2020
Share widely: National guard and MPD sweeping our residential street. Shooting paint canisters at us on our own front porch. Yelling “light em up” #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #JusticeForGeorge #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/bW48imyt55
— Tanya Kerssen (@tkerssen) May 31, 2020
Update: Got her permission with a fuck yeah. The cop pushed her so hard at Barclays & she flung back. She is tiny. Now she’s in the ER after a serious seizure. I’m waiting for updates but have to wait outside because of COVID-19. Please keep my protest sister in your thoughts. pic.twitter.com/MqV0QJ0D8h
— Whitney Hu 胡安行 (@whitney_hu) May 30, 2020
— Nick / nak5132 (@the7goonies) May 31, 2020
Cops didn’t like me filming the burning car so they came at me with batons. Hitting my bike.
Ahhm herea the audio pic.twitter.com/tfaOoVCw5v
— John Cusack (@johncusack) May 31, 2020
— Kevin Krause (@KevinRKrause) May 31, 2020
Minneapolis Police slashed every tire on my rental car, as well as every tire of every car in this parking lot. pic.twitter.com/lchFplYQ0n
— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) May 31, 2020
Attacks on Journalists
Police also appear to be making a point to shut down reporting of the situation, as a huge amount of attacks on journalists have also been reported. Minneapolis police shot freelance reporter Linda Tirado in the face, leaving her permanently blind in one eye. Other journalists have also been shot; Louisville police hit one local reporter for WAVE, an NBC affiliate while she was reporting live on air. The first response from the anchor in the TV studio was to ask if they realized she was a journalist, suggesting that shooting others with pepper bullets would be acceptable. The reporter was actually standing well away from any action, appearing to be camped out near police lines. Denver Post employees were also attacked while covering their local demonstrations. Photographer Hyoung Chang noted that police aimed and shot him twice. “If it was one shot, I can say it was an accident,” he said. “I’m very sure it was the same guy twice. I’m very sure he pointed at me.” Another Post employee, Elise Schmelzer was also targeted while wearing a reflective vest that read “press.” Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessey-Fiske also reported that police attacked her and a group of other journalists, firing tear gas at point blank range at her. A CBS news crew, completely alone in a deserted parking lot was set upon by police, firing rubber bullets at them, hitting their sound engineer. Minnesota police also shot a Reuters crew on Saturday with rubber bullets, one being hit in the face, the other in the arm and the back of the neck, despite–or perhaps because–they were clearly labeled as journalists.
On Friday an entire CNN team, led by presenter Omar Jimenez was arrested by State Patrol troopers live on air, the images continuing to be broadcast to the nation even as Jimenez and his crew were led away in handcuffs. CNN commentator Keith Boykin (an African-American) was arrested by NYPD while covering the New York protests. In a perhaps not unrelated incident, an NYPD officer was filmed making a white power hand gesture at protestors. An Australian crew for Nine News was also arrested.
Perhaps most blatantly, however, Denver police threw a reporter into a burning fire for trying to take a picture of them. The incident was caught on live television.
an update: I am permanently blind in my left eye, and the docs absolutely refuse to let me go back to work for they say six weeks. I’m definitely not allowed to be near smoke or gas.
Usually if I had to stay home I’d spend a lot of time amplifying folk but reading hurts today
— Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis) May 30, 2020
This just happened on live tv. Wow, what a douche bag. pic.twitter.com/dQKheEcCvb
— Christopher Bishop (@ChrisBishopL1C4) May 30, 2020
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 29, 2020
"I’ve covered protests involving police," writes @mollyhf from Minneapolis. "I’ve also covered the U.S. military in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been fired at by police until tonight." https://t.co/v45qwv82S3 pic.twitter.com/7bcUtcLYIs
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 31, 2020
— Big T (@tessrmalle) May 31, 2020
This is the moment Minneapolis Police fired on our CBS News crew with rubber bullets. As you can see, no protesters anywhere near us- we all were wearing credentials and had cameras out. Our sound engineer was hit in the arm. #cbsnews pic.twitter.com/UAy7HYhGnL
— Michael George (@MikeGeorgeCBS) May 31, 2020
Tonight I was shot in the arm and the back of my neck with rubber bullets in the middle of covering the Minneapolis protests. My security advisor was shot in the face; his gas mask protected him.
Here’s what happened: https://t.co/fwwVLAxFIY
Here’s what it looks like: pic.twitter.com/UwSBqpHv5N
— Julio-César Chávez (@JulioCesrChavez) May 31, 2020
America’s Militarized Police Force
In many comparable countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway or New Zealand, regular police officers are always unarmed. Yet America’s cops are increasingly kitted out and trained as if they are special operations troops in a warzone filled with enemy combatants. Increasingly, today’s cops more closely resemble Latin American death squads than their peers in Europe. Between 1998 and 2014 the value of military hardware given to U.S. police departments ballooned from $9.4 million to $796.8 million. Police departments now have access to armored personnel carriers, tanks, and other weapons of war. Authorities even flew a Predator Drone like those used to bomb the Middle East over Minnesota earlier this week. Police are also increasingly trained like and by soldiers, using tactics honed by groups like the Israeli Defense Forces when dealing with Palestinian citizens. Thus, the oppression meted out abroad is increasingly being turned upon domestic opposition, and historically, the only way to maintain enormous levels of inequality, like those seen in today’s United States has been through violence. Yet at the same time as budgets for police hardware have gone through the roof, funding for public hospitals has decreased, leading to a situation where police officers resemble robocop or Iron Man and doctors are told to wear garbage bags to protect themselves from a pandemic.
The National Guard has been deployed in multiple states, with over 10,000 troops scheduled to flood Minneapolis streets. President Trump is encouraging them to open fire on whomever he deems as “thugs” and “looters.” “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted on Friday. Thus, it appears the only response from authorities to protests about police brutality is more police brutality.
The irony is that being a police officer is not a particularly dangerous job. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a myriad of professions are far more dangerous than law enforcement, including farming, groundskeeping, gardening, virtually any job to do with construction, steel working, mechanical engineering. Being a pilot, a teamster, a trucker or even a bartender carries with it a greater risk of death on the job than policing. Indeed, simply being self-employed or working at all past 65 is as lethal as being a police officer. In contrast, death at the hands of police is a leading cause of death for men of color (like George Floyd).
A culture of impunity
America’s police are able to use seemingly unlimited amounts of force, safe in the knowledge they will rarely if ever, be held to account. For example, during a Friday rush hour traffic jam in December, instead of apprehending a pair of suspected robbers, 19 Miami police officers opened fire on a stationary hijacked UPS truck from all angles, riddling it with bullets and killing its kidnapped driver, Frank Ordonez, plus another innocent bystander. Such is the culture of deference to authority, however, that UPS immediately thanked the police for their actions. Ordonez’s union certainly did not do the same, retorting that police “murdered” him.
Minnesota law enforcement officials have been especially immune from the consequences of their actions, being protected from justice by a succession of state prosecutors, including potential vice-president Amy Klobuchar. Between 1999 and 2007, she declined to bring charges against more than two dozen killer officers. In 2006, Chauvin himself killed another man, Wayne Reyes. He was not charged and would go on to shoot and/or kill again multiple times, including on Monday.
Police appear to be relaxed about escalating scuffles into full-blown violent confrontations. Indeed, if history is any judge, it may be exactly what they wish to occur. Chauvin himself was only arrested for murder after it sparked worldwide outrage, and police continue to appear confident that any action they take while in uniform will be backed up by the power of the state, regardless of how unjustifiable it was.