Observations of an Expat: American Turning Point?

The guilty verdict in the trial of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the murder of African-American George Floyd has the potential to be a watershed in American race relations. But it has a host of hurdles to overcome.

The key to surmounting well-entrenched centuries old problems is the George Floyd Policing Act, also known more succinctly as the George Floyd Bill. It passed the House of Representatives in March and is now before the Senate where it needs 60 votes (nine more than there are Democrats) to circumvent the dreaded filibuster.

The Bill proposes slew of changes which has raised concern among the law and order lobby, police union, gun enthusiasts and states’ rights advocates. It would be more than just concern if it weren’t for the fact that Chauvin is obviously guilty beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt.

Among the bill’s provisions are a ban on chokeholds and carotid holds of the type that killed George Floyd. It also creates a national “misconduct registry” to prevent police officers fired from one force finding employment on another police force elsewhere in the country.

There is money for improved training and an end to racial profiling and state. Local authorities who refuse to accept Washington’s oversight will find federal funds dramatically cut. They could even be completely cut off.

Perhaps more important of all, the George Floyd Bill, proposes the end of the Qualified Immunity Act which gives government employees – mainly police – protection from prosecution for assaults on people’s rights. In this case it means protection for African-Americans as guaranteed under the 8th Amendment of the US constitution which protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment.

The powerful police union claims that qualified immunity is essential if law and order is to be maintained on American streets and the lives of the men and women charged with maintaining law and order are to be protected. They are joined by the gun enthusiasts and states’ rights advocates. The former oppose any restrictions on weapons, especially those carried by the police. The latter will fight on principle tooth and nail against any federal oversight laws. They argue that police actions should be tailored to local conditions which vary around the country, rather than imposed on a one size fits all basis by Washington liberals.

The emphasis on law and order over justice has created a them and us conflict mentality between America’s police and the public they are meant to “serve and protect.” When a SWAT team is activated, it goes from the station kitted out for action in a war zone. They are equipped with armoured vehicles, airplanes, drones, helicopters, grenade launchers, tear gas, and assault rifles.

Their head to toe protective gear makes them look more like frontline soldiers than police officers, and too often they act accordingly. This is not surprising. Since 1997 the US Department of Defense has transferred more than $7 billion in military equipment to police authorities.

The prosecutors in the Derek Chauvin/George Floyd trial said that only one rogue policeman was on trial for murder in Hennepin County Court – not the nation’s police. It is true to a degree. Not all police officers are vicious racist thugs. Just as not all Muslims are terrorists and all Hispanics are murderers and rapists. But American law enforcement agencies appear to attract too many of them, and they – and their honest, law-abiding colleagues – were metaphorically standing next to Derek Chauvin when the guilty verdict was delivered.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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5 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Apr '21 - 7:13pm

    Just to be clear, neither a chokehold nor a carotid hold killed George Floyd – it was pressure on his back and back of neck that compressed his lungs, leading to difficulty breathing and, thereafter, death. Chokeholds are applied to the front of the neck…not the back, and carotid holds applied to the sides of the neck restrict blood supply to the brain.

  • John Marriott 24th Apr '21 - 8:52am

    Policing in the USA is in a mess – and to think that it was from there that the idea of the Police and Crime Commissioner came, which, at one time the Lib Dems had the conviction to oppose. But not any more judging by the number of PCC candidates the party is currently fielding. It was always a daft idea and, judging by turnouts in PCC elections, one in which the public shows little enthusiasm.

    The Lib Dem PCC candidate in Lincolnshire is offering, if elected, to take a pay cut. Well, either he is very wealthy or he doesn’t think the job is worth the pay. I can assure him, if hell did freeze over and he got elected, he would be in for an almighty shock. However, given his background, what does he actually know about scrutinising the police? Mind you, the same question could be asked of three of the other four candidates. The other candidate is the current PCC, who, I assume, has learned on the job.

  • @Brad Barrows. Thank you for the clarification about chokeholds. You are quite right. I did use the phrase “type of” and as I typed it I was concerned that it was insufficient and a shade misleading. I hope readers understood my general meaning: physical action by police designed to reduce the flow of blood to the brain and/or air to the lungs is dangerous.

    @John Marriott. I like to think that there is a major attitudinal difference between the British and American police. British police, in my opinion, do not regard a large segment of the population as “the enemy” or the streets as a “war zone.”

  • Tom,

    from my experience of living in America, I can’t say I noticed any major attitudinal difference between the British and American police. Save perhaps that policing may be a more common career choice for ex-military in the states.
    What is unique to America is its gun problem. The states with the loosest regulation of firearms — congregated in the south and southwest — also have the highest number of annual deaths by gun. America has far more assault deaths per capita than other industrialized nations. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is an extreme outlier. The U.S. has a gun homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 — six times as large as Canada, 23 times as large as Australia, 43 times as large as the U.K., and more than 300 times as large as Japan.
    The majority of Americans appear to favour tighter restrictions on gun sales as long as it doesn’t apply to them. But getting gun control laws past that Senate filibuster has proved an impossible task to date.
    Until some way is found of massively restricting access to hand guns in the US and the number of police officers carrying weapons, I don’t see the situation there improving greatly.
    The evidence of senior members of the Minnesota police officers was crucial in securing the prosecution of Derek Chauvin and for that they should be commended. Perhaps their example will be taken up by other forces when their Police officers cross the line.

  • I agree that the issue of gun control lies near or at the heart of the problem of police and other homicides in the US. I guns were less common than police officers would not feel so threatened and quick to defend themselves. The political problems surrounding gun control are partially illustrated by recent correspondence I had with a reader in theStates. He does not own a gun. He is not interesting in shooting for sport. But he is a supporter of the Second Amendment. To support his argument he sent me a list of 100 countries who ban guns and yet have a much higher gun homicide rate than the United States. They included the following: Haiti, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chad, the DRC, Sudan…. Draw your own conclusions.

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