Until our elected officials, media, and “activists” stop rendering sentences on the basis of assumed verdicts garnered from piecing together a few time-bound, one-sided video clips and a truckload of assumptions about a “racist” or “white supremacist” country, we will not wake up from an increasingly horrific national nightmare for Americans of every race, creed, and color.
“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first–verdict afterward.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
We live in the age of Lewis Carroll’s queen. This past week riots erupted in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The cause was the shooting of a young black man named Jacob Blake after police responded to a domestic dispute on the afternoon of August 23. A video showing police shooting Blake as he tries to enter a vehicle went viral immediately. The police were judged to have shot an innocent black man in the back. And without further investigation of the matter, people whom the mainstream media have attempted to label “peaceful protesters” decided to give their sentence.
Alas, though no one moved at the command of “off with her head” in the story, those who gave the sentence in this case summoned immediate movement in this case. What has happened in so many cities this year, starting with Minneapolis, happened in Kenosha.
Rioters set fires in residential streets, looted and burned businesses (not just “evil” corporations but family-owned small businesses) and public buildings, set off bombs, threw bricks at and brandished weapons (including guns) in clashes with police. Several people have been killed in the ensuing chaos.
All in the name of “justice.”
I do not know if the officer was justified in shooting Mr. Blake or not. There are two things I do know, however.
The first is that the rioters’ behavior is in no way justified. If my next door neighbor shoots my son unjustifiably, neither justice nor peace is served by me setting fire to the house of the man across the street on the grounds that he is “implicated” in the crime.
The second, the subject of this essay, is that the rioters do not know if the officer’s shooting was justified, either. We do not know if there has been an injustice or not.
We have come to a familiar pattern in America at this point.
- Some conflict occurs in which one can infer, plausibly or not, a racial angle.
- Initial reports or video footage are released onto the internet that seem to be strong evidence for the guilt of one party.
- A band of Carroll-ite Queens of the kingdoms of media, government, and Twitter renders the sentence: civil unrest (which is justified because, whatever the particulars of the yet-to-be-decided verdict, the case clearly involves a gross injustice).
- Activists execute the sentence: violence, legal attacks, and online harassment begin.
- The Queens speak as if the sentence were based on an undoubtedly true and foreseeable verdict—injustice, pure and simple, with the legal particulars to be spelled out by the courts in the next few months.
- Later reports and video footage (usually revealed by foreign or local journalists) reveal that this anticipated verdict was unjustified: the initial reports were biased, incomplete, and/or completely untrue.
- The Queens shrug, call for tea, and wait for the next opportunity to render their sentence.
It happens over and over again. George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin unprovoked. Michael Brown was shot unprovoked. Nicholas Sandmann beset a helpless “tribal elder” with his vicious and punchable “smirk.” Jussie Smollett was beset by MAGA-hatted thugs in that haven of Republicans, Chicago.
None of these turned out to be true. The same may turn out to be the case with our issues du jour. George Floyd, we were and are told in once fastidious news publications, was “murdered.” Not “allegedly murdered.” “Murdered.” Full stop. Politicians such as Minnesota governor Tim Walz have talked in the same way. Many public statements from individuals and institutions have implied that the guilt of Mr. Chauvin and his partners cannot be doubted by any reasonable person.
Like people who do not read the book because they’ve “seen the movie,” these people have decided that looking at all the evidence is beside the point. Haven’t you seen the video on Twitter?
Yet footage from the officers’ body cameras told a different story of how the encounter with Mr. Floyd had developed and gave an indication that a final verdict—in the calmer and more nuanced judgments of future courts of both public opinion and of law—might not match the sentence already proclaimed.
George Parry, a former state and federal prosecutor, who spent about 15 years investigating claims of police brutality and misconduct in Philadelphia, has written several articles detailing how the case against Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers is fatally flawed for a number of reasons, the most important of which are that 1) the toxicology report following Mr. Floyd’s autopsy shows that he had taken a “fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances,” as the chief medical examiner admitted and 2) how they dealt with the clearly under-the-influence Mr. Floyd was exactly how they had been trained to respond to individuals in such circumstances. Mr. Floyd could not breathe, it seems, because his own lungs were filled with fluid caused by having three times the amount of fentanyl in his system as a body can handle.*
I think George Parry’s case is a strong one. A verdict taking into account all the evidence might show that Parry’s legal analysis is exactly right: Derek Chauvin and his officers did not murder Mr. Floyd nor did anybody else. It may be that his death was a tragedy but not an injustice. The point remains, however, that no one really knows yet. That is why we have trials in court and not on Twitter.
Alas, the sentence has already been passed and executed. Minneapolis now resembles post-1968 Detroit more than it does the idyllic Midwestern redoubt of Mary Tyler Moore. Kenosha, a small city of 100,000, is on its way to the same fate.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, after prejudging the actions of the officers as excessive force and connecting them to “systemic racism,” was forced to call in the National Guard to quell the riots. Yet just days after the viral video of Mr. Blake being shot, a new video emerged. Like the body-camera footage in the George Floyd case, it was released by Britain’s Daily Mail—an important point to mention. Too many American journalists are generally unwilling or unable to obtain any information that goes against their initial verdict-less sentence. Shot from the opposite angle of the initial viral video, this footage shows Mr. Blake wrestling with two officers before attempting to get into his car. A woman is heard in the new footage pleading, presumably with Mr. Blake, to “get back.”
Does the new footage of the incident exonerate the police officer in question? No. Like our knowledge of the situation as a whole, it is too fragmentary. It does, however, complicate the story. No matter how much people shout for “justice,” it is not possible to reach justice by rendering a sentence before a verdict is found taking into account all the evidence. Nor is it possible to reach justice by getting revenge on Peter to stick it to Paul. Much less by burning down the city the alleged victims and perpetrators both live in.
I’m not naïve enough to think that all the Carroll-ite Queens are really worried about whether Derek Chauvin or the Kenosha police officers are literally guilty. Too many figures today simply are looking for a pretext to stage a revolution. Some in the name of destroying “systemic racism,” which they define not by actual acts of racism or even current policies that are defined by unjust discrimination but instead by the fact that racial inequalities exist. Some in the name of a bright Marxian future. Some simply by the all-too-fallen human desire simply to experience the exhilaration of destroying what we have now and leave the creation of something new to vague dreams. But many of those who go along with such figures only do so by being convinced and convincing themselves that what they are doing is really about justice “for George Floyd” or “for Jacob Blake.” They will be fellow travelers with all the revolutionaries by telling themselves that “we all know” that what happened in these video-recorded happenings were acts of actual injustice.
Alice eventually woke up from her dream. Until our elected officials, media, and “activists” stop rendering sentences—and elected officials stop allowing mobs to execute them—on the basis of assumed verdicts garnered from piecing together a few time-bound, one-sided video clips and a truckload of assumptions about a “racist” or “white supremacist” country, we will not wake up from an increasingly horrific national nightmare for Americans of every race, creed, and color.
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*See “Are the Minneapolis and Atlanta Police Officers Guilty?” by Thomas R. Ascik.
The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.