Next week, police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial on charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd is set to begin in Minneapolis. City officials are already bracing for protests and possible civil unrest. The city, which defunded its police force in the wake of Floyd’s death last spring, has had to rely on National Guard units and police officers from other jurisdictions to provide security.
In advance of the trial, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7120, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It is now headed to the Senate, where Sen. Tim Scott, whose own police reform legislation was filibustered by Senate Democrats (who also believe the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era when used by Republicans, but is perfectly fine when they deploy it against their Republican colleagues) has met with House sponsors of the bill and pledged to consider it “holistically.”
Among other things, the George Floyd Act bans the use of chokeholds and offers reforms to qualified immunity rules. It also claims to take on racial profiling, but as Dan McLaughlin at National Review noted, the Act’s expansive view of racial profiling would, in practice, make it practically impossible for cops to do their jobs. McLaughlin notes that the text of the act states that “‘disparate impact’ alone is enough to prove profiling. Because the statute doesn’t define ‘disparate impact,’ it would presumably be read by the courts in the usual way, to mean any disparity in the rate of being stopped or investigated among different groups.” The practical effect? “There will be a powerful incentive to avoid disparate impact in stops even when there is a disparate rate of committing actual crimes. Simple math tells us what that means: more stops of innocent people in order to keep the stop rates even, or fewer stops of actual criminals.”
In addition, as Peter Kirsanow notes, the bill also introduces some identity politics pork in the form of “taxpayer-funded giveaways to ethnic-advocacy organizations and the imposition of racial preferences in hiring police officers.”
Democrats have been careful to insist that nothing in the Act should be construed as defunding the police. That’s because defunding the police has proven unpopular with many voters in the Democratic coalition and likely cost the party seats in the House in the 2020 election. As progressive pollster David Shor told New York Magazine recently, “We looked specifically at those voters who switched from supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 to Donald Trump in 2020 to see whether anything distinguishes this subgroup in terms of their policy opinions. What we found is that Clinton voters with conservative views on crime, policing, and public safety were far more likely to switch to Trump than voters with less conservative views on those issues.”
On crime, and policing in particular, the white liberal Democrats in the party’s coalition have proven to be far more left-wing in their views than the party’s minority members. “If you look at the concrete questions, white liberals are to the left of Hispanic Democrats, but also of Black Democrats, on defunding the police and those ideological questions about the source of racial inequity,” Shor notes.
Which is why progressives are so unhappy with the George Floyd Act. They have been promoting the much more radical Breathe Act, endorsed by the Squad and Black Lives Matter. In addition to defunding the police, the Act calls for defunding the Department of Defense, the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Agency, the closure of all federal prisons, “non-punitive, community-led approaches” to justice, and even “reparations for mass criminalization—including the War on Drugs, the criminalization of prostitution, and police violence.”
“The George Floyd Act Wouldn’t Have Saved George Floyd’s Life,” activist Derecka Purnell complains in The Guardian. Purnell argues that the true crime wasn’t Floyd’s use of counterfeit money or his reportedly dangerous physical state, noted by the store clerk who told the 911 dispatcher that he thought Floyd might be intoxicated (medical examiners found high levels of fentanyl as well as methamphetamine in Floyd’s system at the time of his death).
The real crime, according to Purnell, is that Floyd needed cash, and “society” didn’t provide it for him: “What’s more criminal than counterfeit cash is the society where people live off of these transactions in corner stores in the first place,” Purnell argues. “[Police] can’t stop the underlying conditions that give rise to it: class exploitation and poverty. Floyd appeared to need cash, not the police.” In fact, she argues that it is not only Derek Chauvin but Congress’ fault Floyd died because he didn’t receive a large enough COVID relief check: “I wonder if Floyd would have used a counterfeit $20 if Congress would have issued $2,000 a month to the public as several activists and progressive legislators have been demanding. George Floyd’s blood is on their hands.”
Activists like Purnell are especially incensed that the Floyd Act provides resources to fund police accountability and transparency regarding officer-involved shootings. “Protesters have been demanding to defund the police to keep us safe; not spend millions of dollars to investigate how we die,” Purnell writes. “We know how we die–the police.” (In fact, the leading causes of death among black men in America are the same as they are for white men: cardiovascular disease and cancer; with regard to homicide, black men are far more likely to die at the hands of other black men than they are at the hands of police officers of any race).
Progressive complaints haven’t stopped Democrats on the Hill from pursuing their own unique strategy for getting the Senate to take up and approve the Floyd Act. If you’re wondering what the Democratic Party’s legislative strategy is when it comes to criminal justice, look no further than the blatant threat issued by a Democratic staffer in this Washington Post story:
Incidents of police brutality “create instability within communities, and the longer the federal government waits to act or delays in acting, the more instability we potentially have within communities,” said a senior House Democratic aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue. “The weather’s getting warm, the George Floyd trials are coming up, and it’s important the federal government sends a message that it intends to act in this area and not delay.”
Make no mistake: “The weather’s getting warm, the George Floyd trials are coming up” is a cynical, despicable effort to stoke fear in pursuit of a political agenda—fear of the kind of violent protests, rioting, and looting that occurred last summer. Activists have also embraced the threat of violence. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Minneapolis has had to take such threats seriously in its preparations for the upcoming Chauvin trial: “Activist groups like Black Lives Matter have said they plan to protest peacefully during the trial but can’t rule out the possibility of civil unrest breaking out in the event of an acquittal.”
Whatever the fate of the George Floyd Act in the Senate, it has already become another pawn in the ideological war progressives are waging over criminal justice issues in the U.S. With activists and Democratic staffers breezily issuing threats of violence if they don’t get their way, the Chauvin trial, unfortunately, seems poised to bring a repeat of the destructive civil unrest of last summer.