Friday, May 29, 2020

Caught on camera

Regarding the George Floyd controversy, I'm baffled by the mind-numbing stupidity of the police in this situation. Between dashcams, body cams, and the ubiquity of private citizens toting portable electronic cameras, the public activities of the police are under almost constant surveillance, so how can they lack the presence of mind to anticipate the fallout if something like this is caught on camera? It's not just a case of failing to take Floyd's interests into consideration, for his own sake. The real puzzle is why the officer failed to take Floyd's interests into consideration for the officer's sake. The officer was acting in a way detrimental to the officer's self-interest if this became another viral video of cops behaving badly. Morality aside, why do we have cops who can't see how they are acting contrary to their own best interests? How can they be so short-sighted?

To some degree this is encouraged by grand juries that give police a slap on the wrist. But it seems to run deeper than that.

One of the oddities of human nature is the capacity for highly compartmentalized identities. Humans are into role-playing. When we wear a uniform, it's easy to become detached from our natural identity and adopt the persona of the uniform. I'm no longer me but the man in the uniform. I'm not responsible for my actions: the man in the uniform is. Likewise tribesmen who wear face paint to camouflage their natural identity and project a different persona. They are blameless. It's the man in the face paint who did it. Or the man in the badge. They don't seem to see themselves doing it. Then they're blinded-sided by the reaction of outsiders.


  1. It's sort of like the Stanford prison experiment in that role players took on the persona of prison guards (or what they thought prison guards should be like).

  2. I think one also has to take into account, to some degree, that certain professions or callings attract certain personality types.

    Just as pedophiles are attracted to professions where they have access to children, so are certain fields attractive to those who desire to experience, wield, or otherwise express power, authority, machismo, whatever over others.

    Or even good ol' fashioned "law and order" types who genuinely just want to see the rules followed for benevolent reasons.

  3. Totally agree. Regarding the 1st paragraph, I don't understand why every police district doesn't show every member of the force the many videos that capture police brutality and abuse that leads to the firing of officers, their lose of income and how shame falls upon themselves and their guild.

    But then maybe some districts do and it still has no effect on their behavior. If so, part of it might be the thrill or high some cops have in wielding authority [abusively or otherwise]. It seems to me that can explain a lot psychologically and how even demons may sometimes enhance and exaggerate that feeling of power one can get from "being the law", or the "interpreter of the law", or the "executor of the law", or even "being above the law". Some cops might literally get drunk on power. There might actually be a neurological process whereby certain chemicals are produced that give them a high.

    I'm reminded of something W.L. Craig quotes in his The Absurdity of Life without God:
    //Richard Wurmbrand, who has been tortured for his faith in communist prisons, says,

    The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no Hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.25// [source]

    While watching the video of George Floyd, I wish one of the onlookers simply said to the cops, "You're being filmed! You will lose your jobs, income and possibly your homes if you continue to abuse that man. Especially if he dies. Your department will eventually disavow you, and your friends will abandon you." They could have repeated those points till it hit home. But I can't blame them. It's hard to think clearly when you see such abuse or watch a man being murdered before your eyes.

    Another reason that emboldens cops is they know that if cannot be proven that they did anything wrong, they aren't personally liable. So, long as they were doing their job. Even honest mistakes fall under that category. That's as it should be. But some cops aren't self-reflective enough to realize that if they are being filmed that that documents their negligence and abuses.

  4. David French's comments on his podcast yesterday helped me put the officer's inaction into some perspective. He said something along the lines about how police officers probably hear suspects who are being arrested yell stuff like "I can't breath!" or "You're hurting me" ten times a week. Add to that the fact that the officer, Chauvin, was probably gauging the legitimacy of Floyd's claim in light of how much pressure the officer *thought* he was applying. And it's possible that Chauvin's pressure wasn't the only factor. It appears that there was another officer also putting pressure on Floyd ( and it was that combined pressure which killed him. And had Floyd lived, had he been crying wolf, so to speak, then the citizens standing around video taping you don't matter much. In that circumstance, even if the videos cause a small outrage mob on Twitter, that only matters to the folks on Twitter who are a tiny minority and who tend to be on the fringes of their ideological spectrum.

    While all of this might mitigate the utter stupidity and moral blame we assign to Chauvin, it doesn't completely alleviate it since Chauvin probably has a duty to take such claims of seriously, even if he does hear them ten times a week. There is also the fact that it should have become evident to Chauvin and the other officers much sooner that Floyd was serious.

    1. Chauvin has been arrested. The other three officers involved haven’t (yet). One of the three didn’t touch Floyd, but kept bystanders away. The other two officers did restrain Floyd. From what I’ve read, police officers are specifically taught not to place pressure on the neck of someone, especially if they have already been restrained, which Floyd was. In fact, there’s video footage from a restaurant across the street showing Floyd was already in handcuffs and seated prior to him being out in the ground.

    2. put on the ground*

  5. A few more things:

    1. Chauvin was charged with murder, and it does look like he committed murdered, but was his murder due to racism? Maybe, maybe not.

    2. Also involved were two Asian-American police officers - Tou Thao (Hmong) and Alexander Leung (Chinese).

    3. Chauvin might be the brother-in-law of Tou Thao, i.e., Chauvin's wife may be Thao's sister (source).

    4. Chauvin may have crossed paths with Floyd when both worked as security guards at the same club (source).

  6. Any thoughts from a philosophical or psychological perspective why people riot? I'm not talking about protesting, I'm talking about looting, pillaging, maiming, and burning down buildings.

    Who are the people doing these things and why are they doing them? And why does it spread across the country?

    I've never understood this dynamic.

    1. That’s a good question, CD! I don’t know, but there are likely a variety of reasons. For example, some people are just plain old malevolent, maybe even some sociopaths or the like. Also, it seems to me people in, say, their 20s are more likely to be inclined toward radicalism of one kind or another than people in, say, their 60s, which in turn may sometimes overlap with tendencies to loot, pillage, etc. A third possibility is mob mentality may takeover at some point in a peaceful protest. A fourth is there are some who actively agitate violence:

  7. I'm not saying anything at all here about the guilt or innocence of Chauvin (or the other police on the scene). We just simply don't know enough. And we still live in a country where there is a presumption of innocence, and there will certainly be investigations and trials.

    But here are some of the things we know.

    George Floyd had on multiple occasions passed counterfeit money. That in itself makes it a federal crime -- it would be a federal crime for anyone. The FBI was called in immediately. That is one of the first things I heard about all of this.

    I'm sure the FBI knows a lot already.

    On top of that, Floyd was intoxicated. He was a very big man, and he clearly dwarfed the police officers on some of the videos. He had history with Chauvin in the past -- they worked "security" at a "night club". Did they interact there? What was the nature of their relationship? Did Chauvin think Floyd was playing "possum"? That is not outside the realm of possibility. He had already in this incident (passively) been resisting arrest. Clearly there was a concern on the part of the police that he could be capable of lashing out in some way.

    He was clearly intoxicated, which could have been a thought underpinning the belief Floyd could lash out and be dangerous. What if the physical hold was a desire by the police to avoid having to be put into a position of shooting at him?

    As well, at least one autopsy has shown that high on Fentanyl and Methamphetamine, which also contributed to his death.