Tyrant of the moment

A tyrant is a person who rules with absolute power.

My wife has asked me several times what would make a police putd the full weight of his body through a knee on the neck of a handcuffed suspect.

Police officers, and to a much greater extent prison guards, are geared to being tyrants of the moment. Their profession—if it can truly be called that—vest with them an absolute power to do what they feel is necessary to control the moment.

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin literally suffocated the life out of Charles Floyd on May 25, 2020 because he believed he had the absolute power to not only restrain but to kill Floyd to control the moment of Floyd’s arrest.

That sense of absolute power made Chauvin tone deaf (or at the very least indifferent) to Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe”—just as the officer was oblivious to the crowd urging him to stop while someone in the crowd filmed the entire episode.

Floyd may have said or did something that would be insignificant to a reasonable, rational thinking person but “pissed off” Chauvin because it offended his sense of absolute power. He automatically went into that tyrant mode of, “alright mother….r, I’ll show you.”

I’ve heard those tyrant utterances a thousand times by prison guards with, “what did you say, what was that bitch, you got an attitude with me?”

Most police officers do not join the force to “protect and serve” the community anymore than a prison guard goes to work in corrections to “rehabilitate” inmates. Both groups of people chose law enforcement and corrections because they are given absolute power and receive fairly good benefits with the job.

Cops and prison guards are instilled with one basic duty: control of the situation, regardless of the harm or damage that may be done in the process.

A prison warden once told me that if the inmates rebelled in his prison: “the first thing I would do is unplug my telephone, quash the rebellion by any means necessary, and then answer all the post-riot investigation questions that will come. Control, and I mean absolute control, is the primary responsibility of people running a prison.”

Policing has pretty much the same mindset. It was not Floyd’s suspected offense—an attempt to pass a counterfeit twenty dollar bill—but something Floyd may have said that triggered officer Chauvin’s need to quash the rebellion behind the words spoken.

But regardless of what Floyd may have said leading up to his being handcuffed, that perceived rebellion was quashed the moment the handcuffs were locked. Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck was purposely designed to suffocate the life out of the man because he had the temerity to even indicate rebellion. That perceived rebellion made Chauvin tyrant of the moment.

Police and prison guards are an “essential service” to protect and serve an organized society—and, yes, there are good cops that do “protect and serve” the community just as there are good prison guards that maintain order and discipline in a prison setting in a measured lawful way.

But there are too many bad cops and prison guards to trust either force. This is especially true for people of color.

My advice, for whatever it is worth, is this:

When stopped by the police, say as little as possible. Respond to questions without smile or attitude. Try to get the “stop” over with as quickly as possible.

Understand this one premise: the police are not your friend, even when you call them in time of need. I say that because of this: a cop responding to a sexual assault claim in a rich neighborhood is going to have a much more deferential attitude than he would have responding to the same claim in a subsidized housing complex.

There are probably a hundred thousand inmates serving life sentences without the benefit of parole in the nation’s prison system whose crimes of violence were not as intentional, methodical, or callous as the crime committed by Derek Chauvin.

But Chauvin will never receive a life without parole sentence.


Because he was a white police officer who killed a “black criminal suspect,” albeit unarmed and handcuffed.

That is the tragic nature of our criminal justice system today.

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