The Right’s Gilded Reaction to George Floyd

It was better than expected, but not good enough.

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Illustration by Nikkolas Smith.

On May 25th, white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on African American George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, two minutes and 53 seconds of which occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. Floyd, who was on his stomach and restrained by multiple other policemen, did not appear to be resisting arrest. He can be heard begging police to let him breathe. His last request, as he lie dying, was to see his mother.

George Floyd’s mother has been dead for two years.

Maddeningly, the government’s autopsy found no evidence for strangulation, and seemed to suggest that underlying heart disease and intoxication were factors in George Floyd’s death.

But George Floyd did not die. He was killed.

Just as police misconduct is nothing new for African Americans, Officer Chauvin found himself in familiar territory.

Chauvin, himself the subject of 15 conduct complaints at the department, has been involved in multiple officer shootings.

He was present at two shootings — Leroy Martinez in 2011 and Wayne Reyes in 2006. In a third shooting, Chauvin himself killed Ira Toles in 2008.

The owner of the nightclub where Chauvin moonlighted as security recalls “calling him out” for “losing it” on black patrons.

So the officer who seemed to collect conduct complaints as a hobby, found himself involved in quite a few police shootings, and who was reprimanded for being too rough with black customers at his side gig is the officer at the center of the George Floyd incident.

Shocking.

But this article is not about police conduct with African Americans.

The problem is self-evident. The solution is surprisingly straight forward. The political will to institute the reforms is…uneven.

Instead, this article is primarily about the political right’s response to the horrific and tragic death of an American citizen at the hands of an armed government worker.

The inner cynic in me expected the worst. The right wing’s playbook concerning issues of policing is tried and true.

The red herring of “black on black” crime. The character assassination of the victim. The whataboutism of police deaths at the hands of criminals. The earnest pleas to wait for the officer’s side of the story.

For a moment, anyway, these knee jerk defenses faded into the background. There was a bipartisan consensus that Officer Chauvin acted inappropriately.

“I can’t find a way to justify it,” conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said of Officer Chavin’s actions.

President Trump vowed to support an investigation into the death of George Floyd, and acknowledged that “they were protesting for the right reason.”

Even I knew — in my state of tenderhearted bewilderment — that such a bipartisan moment would be fleeting.

I was correct.

As frustrated elements of the once peaceful protest movement began to become violent, the side that brands itself as the “law and order” martinets quickly reorganized along all-too-familiar fault lines. The real victim in this tragedy, of course, is private property, no?

And that is where I thought this story ended. A video so inexplicably grotesque was able to momentarily shake us loose of our identity politics. After the initial shock, and as the protests became less peaceful, permission structures and cultural sentiments once again sorted us into our familiar corners.

But as I read more statements from Republicans, a general unease overcame me. Were those immediate statements I once revered as bipartisan progress really any good to begin with? Or was I tricked, like a gilded object that is thinly coated with gold but ultimately hollow, into believing they were more substantive than they truly were?

Kentucky’s Republican Party chairman, J. McCauley Brown, said, “I can understand totally why people are protesting.”

Essentially, I’m not protesting, maybe I’m not even that upset, but sure, I can see why the “other side” isn’t happy.

Michigan’s Republican Party chairwoman, Laura Cox, echoed a similar sentiment, “I understand the protesters are frustrated and they want swift justice, and I feel that for them.”

Them. Not me. I see why you’re frustrated, but I’m not frustrated.

Conspicuously deemphasized (even absent) in many statements was any sense of empathy for George Floyd. The statements also failed to address the systemic racial inequities in our criminal justice system that permit such tragedies to occur regularly.

Rather, these statements seem to approach the tragic death of George Floyd as just another move in the high stakes game of partisan chess. “Alright, you got me, you win this move.” The right concedes losing the battle of the next news cycle, but digs in for the larger war ahead.

Perhaps I am reading too much into these statements.

Or perhaps I initially didn’t read enough into them.

Written by

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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