putting this on the record

I think this post by my friend Rod Dreher is horrifying. I think Rod ought to be ashamed of himself for writing it, and should apologize.

Rod says that recently leaked bodycam footage of George Floyd being uncooperative with police and acting in a “bizarre” fashion “dramatically changes what we thought we knew about this story.” [UPDATE: Rod, thank God, has changed the headline that was the most offensive part of the post, so I have cut some of the things I first wrote.] George Floyd behaved strangely and was uncooperative with police. He was not violent and did not threaten anyone with violence. Derek Chauvin killed him by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes. To say that George Floyd is in any way responsible for his own death is a shockingly offensive thing to write and I struggle to process the fact that Rod wrote it. But Rod went further than that: he wrote, “George Floyd is dead today almost entirely because of George Floyd.” A thousand times no. George Floyd is dead today entirely — not almost entirely, entirely — because Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes. You can call that murder — I do — or you can call it something else, but that is how and why George Floyd died.

The newly released footage might — might — embarrass some of the people who have tried to paint Floyd as some kind of saint, papering over his history. But beyond I don’t see how the footage changes anything. I still think exactly what I thought before I saw that footage: Non-saints, indeed even habitual criminals, don’t deserve what was done to George Floyd. Behaving bizarrely, “shrieking and carrying on like a lunatic,” is not a capital offense. Some of us might even say that a person who is clearly not in his right senses deserves compassion. Instead George Floyd got death. Eight minutes of patient, calm, unrelenting asphyxiation.*

UPDATE: Rod has added the following to his post:

Floyd is dead because Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes. That is a fact. Chauvin should have been charged with something — abuse of force? — but I don’t see how it constitutes murder. I am willing to be corrected, especially by those who understand the law.

What shocked me about this video was how wildly uncooperative Floyd was prior to the neck restraint. I had believed prior to this that the police had thrown him to the ground and subdued him with the neck restraint. I did not realize all that preceded the neck restraint. I think it is a good thing that neck restraints are being abandoned by police. If Minneapolis had not had that policy, Floyd would probably be alive today.

And if Floyd had not resisted arrest for eight minutes, he would be alive today. He shouldn’t be dead, period, but his death was not the simple case I thought it was prior to seeing this video. Context matters. This helps, but it would be a lot better if it stopped after the first sentence.

I don’t know whether the new footage will change the thinking of a jury, but it doesn’t change my thinking one iota. If George Floyd had tried to attack Derek Chauvin, then maybe; but what I see is a pathetic, desperate, sick, terrified man. The cops could have waited him out. They chose to kill him instead.

And as for Rod’s claim that “if Floyd had not resisted arrest for eight minutes, he would be alive today,” that is true in exactly the same way, and to exactly the same degree, that “If she hadn’t been wearing that short skirt she wouldn’t have been raped” is true.

* Apologies for phrasing it this way. George Floyd did not die of asphyxiation but rather as a result of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” Rod says this means “his heart and lungs stopped working,” apparently believing that the business about “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” was just tacked on the end of the medical examiner’s sentence for no reason.

So whereas earlier Rod said that George Floyd died because he resisted arrest, now he agrees with some of his readers that George Floyd — the same George Floyd we see in that bodycam video talking and moving freely — was just minutes from death anyway, and therefore it is complete accident that he happened to do so with a police officer’s knee on his neck for eight minutes. Funny old thing, death.

So the details of the story keep changing, but the main thrust doesn’t change — Rod puts it in bold type so we don’t miss it: “George Floyd is dead today almost entirely because of George Floyd.” Nothing else to see here, folks, move right along. And certainly not one drop of compassion for a man who is dead, and friends and family who are mourning him.

I have so much on my plate that I shouldn’t even be writing this, so let me end with one more comment. In an update to his post Rod quotes an email from Leah Libresco, writes maybe a thousand words in reply to it, but totally ignores her key point. I’m going to post Leah’s thoughts as my final contribution here, because I think Rod needs to hear them — and so do I.

When you hold up examples primarily of the excesses of the social justice movement, but not the evils it is responding to, I think you let down your readers. We’re called as Christians to bind up wounds. If you don’t like how that’s being done, point your readers at people who you admire who are doing this well, so they can be part of good work.

I was glad to see that your new book is split between pointing at the problem and giving examples of solutions. I think your blog and your readers would be well served by rebalancing your writing to point more toward what you admire than what you abhor. And remember, people act for the sake of a perceived good. Many of the people you disagree with are grappling with real evils, and you will do more to tell the whole truth when you acknowledge that they are motivated by a desire for justice, not just power.