From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Policing in the US is Not About Enforcing Law. It’s About Enforcing White Supremacy
Date May 31, 2020 12:05 AM
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[ Police treatment of two CNN reporters at a George Floyd protest
shows the US has opposite systems of justice – one for white people,
one for people of color] [[link removed]]

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Paul Butler
May 30, 2020
The Guardian
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_ Police treatment of two CNN reporters at a George Floyd protest
shows the US has opposite systems of justice – one for white people,
one for people of color _

A mural depicting George Floyd is pictured at Mauerpark in Berlin,
Germany. , Photograph: Christian Mang/Reuters


On Friday the CNN journalist Omar Jimenez was arrested
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live television as he covered protests of police brutality in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jimenez identifies as African American and
Hispanic, and when the cops confronted him, he did just what minority
parents tell their kids to do. Jimenez cooperated; he was respectful,
deferential even. He said “we can move back to where you like …
We are getting out of your way … Wherever you want us, we will

It didn’t matter; the police officers put handcuffs on him and led
him away, and then came back to arrest his crew. Jimenez narrated his
arrest as they led him away. His voice is steady. His eyes,
though. Jimenez is masked so his eyes are the only clue to what
he’s feeling. His eyes are perplexed and terrified. I get
it. When a black or brown person goes into police custody, you never
know what is going to happen. You just know that when you leave
police custody, if you are lucky enough to leave, you will be
diminished. That is the point. 

What’s most interesting is not that Jimenez and his colleagues were
released shortly thereafter without any charges filed (or even being
told why they had been taken into custody). That’s what class will
buy a black man in America. You don’t get it quite as bad as your
lower-income brethren. Jeff Zucker, the CNN president, talked
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Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, and the crew was quickly
released. With an apology from the governor, not the cops. Cops
rarely apologize, especially to black men.

But what’s most interesting is what happened to Josh Campbell, a
white CNN journalist who was in the same area as Jimenez and not
arrested. Campbell said
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experience was the “opposite” of Jimenez’s. The cops asked him
“politely to move here and there”. “A couple times I’ve moved
closer than they would like. They asked politely to
move back. They didn’t pull out the handcuffs.”

It’s a cliche that the US has two systems of justice, separate and
unequal, but I prefer the word Campbell used. The US has
“opposite” systems of justice – one for white people and another
for racial minorities, especially African Americans, Latinx and Native
American people. 

White progressives love to focus on class subordination (I see you,
Bernie Sanders!) but there is something sticky about
race. Jimenez’s professional status and calm demeanor did not stop
the police from treating him like a regular black dude – the subject
of their vast authority to detain and humiliate. They didn’t have
an actual reason and they didn’t need one. Jimenez’s dark skin
was the offense. 

This is how powerful a drug white privilege is. Here we have the cops
policing a rally protesting police brutality against a black
man. Even in that context, when the whole world is watching
figuratively, and CNN’s audience is watching literally, the cops
can’t help themselves. They go all brutal lite. They play
“who’s the man” even when the black man, like Jimenez, goes out
of his way to show he already knows who the man is. “You are,
officer, Sir.” What the cops round up are the usual suspects and
the usual suspects are always black and brown.

The whole world has seen the sordid violent recording where George
Floyd narrates, over 10 minutes, his own demise. Actually, there is
not 10 minutes of narration because Floyd goes limp and silent after
several minutes, but that does not cause former officer Chauvin to
remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. The officers had received a
radio run to go to a local store, where Floyd had allegedly tried to
use a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd is across the street from the
store, chilling in his car with a couple of friends, when the officers
approach like they are apprehending violent offenders. They order
Floyd and his friends out of the car, put Floyd in handcuffs, order
him to lie face down on the ground, and pin him down with their knees
and hands. Floyd complains he can’t breathe. A cop responds:
“Well, get up and get in the car.”

 I guess that is what you call police humor.

People ask why would the police treat another human being like this,
and the answer must be because they can. There are rarely
consequences. US police officers kill about 1,000 people a year
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the UK, where in 10 years, law enforcement took a total of 23 lives)
and there are rarely consequences. Since 2005, when roughly 15,000
people have been killed by US law enforcement officers, fewer than 150
have been charged with murder. 

True, the officers in George Floyd’s case lost their jobs, and now
face or will face criminal prosecution. This is only because of the
video evidence and the high-profile protests. The reality is that,
statistically, even these officers are likely to escape
conviction. Of the 150 officers charged with homicide in the line of
duty, the majority have been found not guilty or had charges

For the moment, we who believe in justice are supposed to be satisfied
that one cop, four days after the fact, has been taken into custody,
when there are multiple videos of that officer with his knee on the
victim’s back as the man complains he can’t breathe. 

As a black man, and as a former prosecutor, I had no idea it was so
difficult to get arrested. US cops arrest about 12,000,000 people a
year, but not usually each other. For the rest of us – I mean the
rest of us black and brown people – we usually get arrested and
charged the same day the cops decide we are guilty. The talk our
parents give us about how to act around armed agents of the state is
designed not so much to prevent arrests as to preserve life. It
worked for Omar Jimenez. 

But not for George Floyd. On the ground, dying, George Floyd pleads
for his life, respectful as a person can be when he is asking for
mercy from the people who are literally crushing the life out of him.
He says “please”, “officer”, and calls out to his dead

But the police do not remove their knees and feet and hands from Mr
Floyd’s body. They don’t even stop restraining him when his body
is limp and silent. 

What’s to be done? Tinkering with the system makes a difference
here and there but it is not enough. If a white woman was thought to
have tried to use a fake $20 bill, it’s impossible to imagine the
police storming her vehicle, ordering her and her friends out, placing
her in handcuffs and ultimately her winding up dead. But as long as
cops have that kind of power, people of color will bear the brunt. So
one simple reform would be to not allow the cops to make arrests for
any non-violent crime. It’s a power they can’t be trusted with,
because they will abuse it.

In the end, this is not about law enforcement. It’s about enforcing
white supremacy. There’s no tinkering with that, what with white
supremacy being the foundation on which the country was built. The
consistent big question in the quest for racial justice has been how
much white supremacy is central to the identity of the US. This is
what Barack Obama and Ta-Nehisi Coates argued about. If we had
something approaching equal justice, would we still even be the Unitd
States? In order to accomplish that we’d have to change the
constitution, which authorizes much of the police violence that
communities of color complain about, and the politics which exploits
white anxiety about black and brown men. 

What does it mean for people of color to live in a country where, for
them to have a fair shot, law and government have to be
transformed? It means that we should expect more cases like Omar
Jimenez and George Floyd, regardless of whether Trump or Biden wins in

The real problem, ultimately, is not bad apple cops, even though these
four officers are rotten to the core. The real problem is
demonstrated in what a bystander told
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officers as they restrained him to death. “He’s human,
bro.” But Mr Floyd was not human to these officers. Enforcing the
dehumanization of people of color has become, in the United States,
what you call police work. 

_• Paul Butler is the Albert Brick professor in law at Georgetown
University. A former federal prosecutor, he is the author of
Chokehold: Policing Black Men_

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