Millions of people were horrified to see George Floyd pinned under Derek Chauvin’s knee for nine minutes. Excessive force by police is not something that should ever happen. But is police brutality the only lesson we need to learn here? Is there something else we should learn?
Floyd was headed to a bad end because of the life he was leading. Had Chauvin not been at the scene and another officer taken Floyd into custody properly, Floyd might still not be alive today. Fentanyl in his system did contribute to his death. Given how unpredictable fentanyl can be and how low levels of the drug can be toxic, Floyd may well have died within the last year had he survived the events of May 25, 2020.
In addition to his drug use, Floyd had a past as a violent criminal – he had committed an armed robbery and served time in prison for it. Floyd was attempting to pass counterfeit bills the day he died, which is what brought him to the attention of police. He was consorting with known drug dealers, a profession that often brings violence and death with it.
We cannot ignore an uncomfortable truth: George Floyd’s death would not have happened had he not been a criminal. People who live as Floyd did often die much younger than they should. Instead of treating him as an innocent victim, we should be holding him up as an example of how not to live your life. This does not mean the way he died was just: Obviously his death was unjust and the result of an illegal act. But can we recognize that Floyd’s life choices contributed to his death?
Nothing excuses excessive force by police. Chauvin’s actions were criminal, and because he was acting under the authority of law he had a higher responsibility to obey the law. Agents of the state must act with the proper restraint. But we also do not want young black men or middle-aged black men to suffer needlessly. That is why we need to seriously address criminality in the black community. If we truly believe that black lives matter, then we need to have black men not make bad choices that lead to their own deaths.