By Ken Gulley
A number of friends have reached out to me in hopes of hearing a Police Officer’s response to the verdict in the George Floyd – Derek Chauvin Trail.
This is my response:
The incident that precipitated this trial caused some of the darkest days of policing. For many of us, we were facing a new but worse surge of rioting likened to the Mike Brown incident a few years before. We were sure, and preparing, to be individually targeted for the colors of our uniform and the badge on our hearts.
Interestingly enough, it’s the claim of prejudicial policing that stoked the flames in both seasons of rioting and yet we were now on the receiving end of similar prejudice. It was unfair that an officer’s actions 1,000 miles away were the reason why my partners and I would be shot at, had explosives, rocks, bottles, fireworks, urine, and more thrown at us by large destructive mobs. Yet, the throngs of belligerent people didn’t see the irony in their actions.
Shortly after viewing the video of Floyd’s death and consuming the contextual evidence available to me, I came out and spoke vehemently against the actions of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin’s outright negligence and pride caused him to act in a manner unbecoming of the honorable men and women who wear the uniform every day. Chauvin ignored the critical concern of a younger officer (who accurately percieved Floyd was experiencing excited delirium) and remained on a man’s neck for over 9 minutes.
Chauvin’s stubborn actions were condemnable then and they remain so now. Chauvin’s actions are the sole reason he is currently sitting in prison and awaiting a ruling on his sentencing.
Every self-respecting officer of the law that I know (I personally know over 400) and spoke with regarding this even believed Chauvin to be an absolute failure of a public servant in that moment. Every officer I spoke with regarding this incident condemned Chauvin’s actions outright.
Without withholding condemnation of Chauvin’s attitude and action, many brothers-in-arms were tentative of jumping the gun. Personally, I did what I normally do not and reacted quickly. Later, with more evidence (especially from the coroners office), I was forced to take a step back on my initial beliefs for the cause of Floyd’s death but my opinions regarding Chauvin’s actions (or lack thereof) remained the same.
You see, I was in Chauvin’s shoes once.
My partner and I responded to a call near the end of our shift regarding a man who was seemingly experiencing an extreme case of drug-influenced hysteria. Multiple callers reported he was running through the streets, throwing himself in front of cars and onto the ground. He ran into businesses, disturbed patrons and employers, and harmed himself. We wary of an altercation to say the lease. So when we arrived, we used our collective skills and knowledge to attempt to take this guy into custody and to get him the appropriate help as soon as we could.
The male resisted somewhat, forcing us to use controlling force to get him into handcuffs. After a tense minute or two of resistance, we were successful in our apprehension with minimal force possible. Upon doing so, my partner and I mounted the man to apply a hobble restraint only to realize soon after, he was no longer resisting. In fact, he was no longer breathing.
As we conducted CPR and Narcan (given the possible mixture of drugs), the male was whisked away in an ambulance. We soon discovered he passed away. Just as quickly as he left via ambulance, we were taken away from the scene by our newly appointed Lieutenant and placed into a conference room, stripped of our ability to contact the outside world. We were instructed to contact lawyers as officials from District Attorney’s office headed our way to conduct an “In-Custody Death Investigation.”
In other-words, the DA’s office wanted to make sure the male was not a victim of a homicide (negligible or intentional) at the hands of my partner and I. Having your rights read to you and being investigated for homicide is no laughing matter. It is nerve wrecking. The magnitude of which didn’t fully hit until months later.
What saved myself and my partner was our quick thinking, training, and proper technique. We recognized quickly that the male was not a viable candidate to take to jail so we asked for paramedics almost immediately upon contacting him. Further, though a short struggle ensued, we followed training that kept us mindful of his breathing, airways, and where we applied pressure. Upon realizing he was no longer conscious, we immediately placed him into a recovery position and aided him. Body worn camera even showed us attempting to console him in his hallucinations.
Chauvin did the opposite.
While EMS was called rather quickly, Chauvin seemed to be caught up in doing the opposite of what the crowd was asking – stubborn in both his heart and actions. Chauvin ignored his partner’s concern about excited delirium and ignored Floyd’s own pleas.
How could he ignore Floyd’s pleas to breathe? I can tell you this from experience, the number of people who have suddenly yelled, “I can’t breathe,” while being placed under arrest are incalculably large. When it is as common as daylight, it becomes easy to ignore after a certain point. Every officer should be mindful to never take those statements for granted. The off chance someone is telling the truth is the one time you don’t want to write it off as another case of “incarceritis.”
In the similar personal incident I described above, the male died from excited delirium as a result of an overdose on a stimulant. Prior to passing, he yelled that “they” were going “to kill me” and stated he was “going to die.”
Was he talking about us or hallucinating? I am unsure but I am confident none of our actions taken caused him harm. Like the Floyd case, our incident also had nearby onlookers recording but something peculiarly different happened… we did not engage the onlookers, we reassured him that help was on the way, we attempted to comfort him (in spite of continued resistance), and we had compassion for what we saw was a human being in a very bad place.
Now and then though, I ask the question, would it have played out the same way if he was anything other than White?
I’ll say again, Chauvin did not act with compassion. In doing so he disrespected Floyd as a person made in the image of God and disgraced himself as a man.
After meeting with my lawyer, I sat down to give my interview to the DA’s office, only to hear nothing for over 9 months. Months of silence is terrifying all-the-while knowing every move we made was being analyzed to determine our innocence or culpability in this man’s death.
Though the final information showed us clear of any culpability, I had to ask again, with a cold chill down my back, what would have happened if this was a black man? Interestingly enough, today, I received word that a local newspaper made a public record request into this incident (and into my service record), no doubt using this nationally televised trial and recent in-custody deaths to reopen wounds long past healed.
The Guilty verdicts read off today came both as something I expected and something that shocked.
You see, I have watched this court case as objectively as possible. My feelings on it were neutral. I believed it could tip either way. My feelings on Chauvin were not neutral. Chauvin pissed me off. He placed me and my brothers in direct danger.
The Coroner’s report, in my opinion, was Chauvin’s greatest defense and the prosecutions biggest hurdle. No asphyxia, no throat damage, and a large amount of illegal drugs in Floyd’s system indicative of an overdose.
This report led me to believe that at least some of the charges would fail. I expected manslaughter and perhaps 2nd degree murder (in the way the law was written) but I found it hard pressed for all three.
When all three charges returned guilty, I found myself with a new unique feeling toward Chauvin: pity.
As a police officer, I don’t care to pity evildoers, especially murderers. As someone whom I had already condemned and whom I despised for his lack of compassion and for the result of what his pride led to across the nation, pity was the last thing I expected to feel. But I do not believe Chauvin woke up that day with him mind set to kill anyone.
You see, I believe any seasoned cop has been to a place Chauvin has been. No, im not talking about similarity of incidents. I am talking about the mental space of, “I am doing my job but I don’t give a damn about you or the idiot over there screaming at me for doing it.”
It’s an ugly dark place that leads to nothing but trouble. It can make you come off as lacking in compassion, cold-hearted, and pig-headed (no pun intended). I’ve seen it with co-workers interviewing sexual assault victims. I’ve seen it on the job at the scene of dead bodies; the wry chuckle and off-colored joke in earshot of onlookers. “Oops, oh well.”
I have seen it in myself. Namely this past year while facing down people at the front of a protest line calling me a fake black, traitor to my race, coward, nigger, etc. I remember hoping they’d get closer so that spit would land on the shield protecting my face so that I could justify reacting to an assault. “I am doing my job but I don’t give a damn about you.” “Give me one good reason.”
We as people and as police officers get to that place when we forget, even momentarily, why we joined the force. We forget who we serve; the people of our community. We forget who we ultimately work for as peacemakers, “for they shall be called the children of God.” Taking your eyes off these things even for a brief moment will cause you to sink in the waves around you.
I believe Chauvin was in that headspace when he ignored people commanding him to get off Floyd. I believe he thought to himself, “I am doing my job and I don’t give a damn about your advice.” I have no record or indication that Chauvin was racist. I have no evidence to support it. What I do have evidence of is poor policemanship and a strange almost aloof response to wise instruction for almost 9 minutes. Chauvin went into that dark headspace, put on his pride and refused to listen to the laymen and his fellow officer’s concerns. He refused to humble himself and in doing so, may have very well assisted the death of George Floyd, in spite of what the medical examiner stated.
The other reason I pitied Chauvin in the moment’s after his guilty verdict was read was because I wholeheartedly believe this man NEVER had a chance at a fair trail. Don’t get me wrong, the video was damning but the video was one complimentary piece of evidence in a large bag of evidence.
In spite of all the instruction given to the jury to ignore media and more, it was impossible for these everyday people not to feel influenced by the outside world. They were, after-all, on a case that shook the nation for a whole summer. They saw the preparations being made around their city for more riots, had their verdict not gone, “the right way.”
Sadly, the “the right way” was pre-defined.
A vocal section of this nation required that the jurors get this “right.” They’ve defined the “right” verdict as a Guilty verdict and nothing less. That chorus of voices included powerful figures and politicians from the City Council to Congress and the President’s Office. These people stirred up emotions and input their own opinion on what they determined was “Right.” Only then when their pre-determined right choice was delivered did they call it “Justice.”
I fear what this precedent means for Justice in general, not just cases involving police officers. If the entire nation can be effectively held at gun point and told to “choose wisely,” that is not the “blind” Justice we hold so dear. That is an influenced answer at the threat of violence. It is my hope that the Jury made their decision because they were convicted by the available evidence but I have a hard time believing that decision was not tainted. I believe it was a decision made out of fear.
I also fear for the continued recoil by Police Officers in regards to these widely publicized incidents. Much of what fuels sentiment today is based off ignorance. Studies show the Left believes 1000+ unarmed black men were killed by police in the last year alone when truth shows that number to be less than 20* (even smaller if you consider what it truly means to be unarmed). Now, people find themselves protesting those who were armed and actively resisting. Being armed or not no longer matters. The truth barely matters. Perception reigns supreme.
Proactive policing in crime ridden areas benefits minority communities the most but as negative sentiment grows you’ll see less of this and more response styled police-work. Response styled policing will place minority communities at more risk of violence from within, which is by far the greatest risk to black men between the ages of 16-25. A far greater than the police. As someone who grew up in the housing projects in Los Angeles, I know this to be intimately true… Sadly there is a growing element in this nation who wants to see “the system” dismantled even if it means there is no suitable replacement. As AOC said, don’t let this moment “to be framed as this system working.” Or consider Pelosi’s words making a martyr and sacrificial lamb for justice out of Floyd.
As the people continue to pursue the rooting out of “systemic” racial issues, they need to know yet refuse to understand that not every black death at the hands of a white person is about race.
Thank you for reading.