Thought Experiment: What If George Floyd Was White?
The blood remained fresh on the snow outside Boston’s Custom House on the morning of March 6, 1770. Hours earlier, rising tensions between British troops and colonists had exploded into violence when a band of Redcoats opened fire on a crowd that had pelted them with not just taunts but ice, oyster shells, and broken glass. Although the soldiers claimed to have acted in self-defense, patriot propaganda referred to the incident as the Boston Massacre. Eight British soldiers and their officer in charge, Captain Thomas Preston, faced charges for murdering five colonists. Not far from the Custom House, a 34-year-old Boston attorney sat in his office and made a difficult decision. Although a devout patriot, John Adams agreed to risk his family’s livelihood and defend the British soldiers and their commander in a Boston courtroom. At stake was not just the fate of nine men but the relationship between the motherland and her colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.
John Adams agreeing to represent the despised soldiers in court was the ultimate example of an unpopular yet principled decision that would be remembered by history as brave and noble. At the time, however, it was considered by many to be deeply unpatriotic. Adams helped define the concept of self-defense in American law; it was also in these Massacre trials that a jury was permitted the stated luxury of “reasonable doubt” for the first time. But it was Adams’ eloquent summation in the soldier’s trial that has most echoed through courtrooms for more than two centuries. Standing before a crowded courtroom, he told the jury, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence…The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations and wanton tempers of men.” Captain Preston and most of his men were acquitted, and Adams, rather than being punished for defending the enemy, went on to earn his rightful legacy in American history.
I can’t help but think that the Chauvin trial is the Boston Massacre of our generation, except in this case, the law didn’t prevail, mob rule and jury intimidation did. Please hear me out.
Along with every one of you, I watched the heart-wrenching video when it came out last year, chronicling the tragic death of George Floyd under the knees of Derek Chauvin. Along with you, it angered me because I believed that this was an unnecessary death. By simply turning Mr. Floyd onto his side, it would’ve allowed him to breathe freely, and the eventual tragic outcome could’ve been different. As with so many events in human history, nothing is as simple as it seems. There are many nuances and intangible factors to consider when judging Derek Chauvin’s actions that day. It is easy to second-guess from a bystander’s perspective and condemn the former officer with our supposed moral clarity.
I was highly concerned when the state announced the charges against Mr. Chauvin. I thought that the second and third-degree murder charges did not fit the crime he committed. But the manslaughter charge was more realistic. As I watched the trial taking place over the last few weeks, I was less and less sure that the prosecution could prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. I was more and more surprised that the judge was not dismissing the murder charges. What I overlooked was the immense bloodthirst from the entire world around the courtroom drama. I’m not trying to sympathize with the defendant, simply giving my layman’s analysis of the facts of the case and relevant laws. But when the announcement came earlier today that the jury had a verdict, I knew what the result would be. A short deliberation almost always means a sure conviction. I realize now that they could have charged him with international espionage, mattress tag removal, and jaywalking; it wouldn’t have mattered. He would still have been found guilty.
Now, I do not intend to defend Mr. Chauvin. I find his actions reprehensible and irresponsible. But I am convinced that the evidence showed that he should not have been convicted of the crimes with which the State of Minnesota charged him. I believe that the jury produced the verdict that they did despite the evidence, not because of it. This was more about the public pressure on them, from the media to BLM protesters, to questionable decisions by the judge, to Maxine Waters, to the President and Vice President, all placing their fingers on the scale. I do feel bad for this jury; they had a more difficult job than John Adams. But in the end, I believe they bent to public outcry instead of genuinely examining whether the evidence produced a reasonable doubt.
Put On Your Thinking Cap
To prove this to you, let us perform a thought experiment, hinted at by the title of this episode. Imagine with me for a moment the entire history of events that took place on Memorial Day, 2020 was all the same except for one tiny detail: George Floyd was a white man. In your mind, you must imagine every detail is precisely the same. Floyd has the same drug addictions, the same questionable affiliates, the same phony $20 bill, the same heart condition, the exact words spoken, the same struggle, the same pleas for help, the same shouts from the gathering audience, and the same tragic end, except in your mind now he is a white man instead of a black man.
There will be some who hear this and think, if George Floyd were white, the police would’ve treated him differently. But our thought experiment won’t allow for that possibility. Imagine that he received exactly the same treatment from law enforcement. The same tap on the window, the identical pistols drawn, the same commands shouted, the same improper handcuff application, the same back and forth, the same difficulty entering the backseat of the vehicle, the same takedown, the same restraint, the same knee to the same neck, except this time it’s a white neck instead of a black one.
In this thought experiment, I ask you what would be the different outcomes of the story if George Floyd was white? I can think of a few things immediately:
- While it might garner attention in Minnesota, it would remain a local news story and never go viral. You wouldn’t know his name.
- There would be no protests, no candlelight vigils, no golden casket.
- There would be no $27 settlement to the family from the city of Minneapolis.
- Derek Chauvin would probably still get fired, but he likely wouldn’t get charged.
- If he did get charged, it would be with manslaughter only; murder would not be part of the case.
- The trial would not be televised on C-Span.
- The jury would carefully weigh the evidence presented in the trial and consider any reasonable doubt.
- Deliberation would have been at least a week.
- At the least, the jury would’ve hung, but more likely, Chauvin would be acquitted.
What is the purpose of this thought experiment? Is it to make you feel sorry for Derek Chauvin? No. Is it to illicit sympathy for white men? No. The sole purpose is to show you how much influence race has had on this reaction, trial, and verdict. It clearly illustrates why the ruling was far more about the pressure coming from outside the courtroom than the facts presented inside the courtroom. It was more about the fear of what would happen if they didn’t convict.
In the end,
I believe this trial has produced a false sense of calm. Yes, we have avoided the spectacle of riots in the streets that would have indeed followed an acquittal. But at what price? We have avoided the tantrum of the two-year-old. We have allowed Smaug to keep the Arkenstone for a bit longer. But what have we produced in the long run? Deeper divisions, disdain for truth, the establishment of mob rule. Maybe it was too much to expect any one of those twelve jurors to have enough courage to recognize that the state had not produced proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the pressure to convict was not coming from the facts but the raging world around them.
Where does this lead?
This case will be appealed. I believe there’s a good chance they’ll overturn the results, which will complicate things even more.
To fewer cops.
I sure don’t want to be a police officer today! This article from Chicago Sun-Times reported, “The number of police officers retiring in Chicago and other cities has soared amid a chorus of anti-police rhetoric that’s become increasingly loud over the past year. In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%. In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers. In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department.” And that was before the verdict! Now that cops know that there’s a possibility that they won’t get a fair trial, it’s not worth it to stay on the force.
According to this opinion piece in the Indy Star, “Last year, the United States tallied more than 20,000 murders — the highest total since 1995 and 4,000 more than in 2019. Preliminary FBI data for 2020 points to a 25% surge in murders — the largest single-year increase since the agency began publishing uniform data in 1960.” And, “Data shows a precipitous decline in law enforcement activity from last June through this February. We found that across the ten major cities we studied, deadly violence rose as engaged policing fell. Cities that cut (or threaten to) police budgets often saw the largest drops in active policing and the increases in homicide.” This trend will continue.
We’ve avoided the riots, to be sure. But I wonder if we will pay a higher price in the long run.
Social or racial justice. Justice alone ought to be good enough. Justice with a modifier will always turn into injustice for someone.
The United States of America is supposed to be a nation that promises liberty and justice for all. Justice for George Floyd and justice for Derek Chauvin. Justice for the ones we love and the ones we hate. Our nation’s legal foundation was birthed with the idea that even public enemy number one deserved a fair trial, due process, a jury of your peers, and the courage to stand up to mob rule. We should care that those principles are eroding right before our eyes.
Jesus said in John 8:32:
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
When we cover up, ignore, or conveniently forget the truth to pursue our own intended goal, we remain unfree.