FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2021
Which means we're all subject to error: Again and again, for reasons which are perfectly obvious, assumptions concerning matters of race lie at the heart of our nation's public discussions.
For better or worse, such assumptions lie at the heart the way the Derek Chauvin trial is being reported and discussed.
Such assumptions will sometimes take our journalists beyond the valley of their actual knowledge. As an example, we'll direct you to Gene Robinson's column in this morning's Washington Post.
Why did Chauvin do what he did on the day in question? In part because Chauvin's behavior that day seems so remarkably strange, we'll have to admit that we don't really know how to answer that question.
That doesn't mean that we couldn't invent an explanation for his strange-seeming behavior. In our view, that's pretty much what Robinson does, right at the start of his highly novelized column.
As we're constantly told on cable, Robinson is a highly-experienced, Pulitzer-winning journalist. He was in charge of the Post's Style section back in June 1999, when the section launched a disgracefully stupid, three-part attack on the disfavored Candidate Gore.
Robinson is thoroughly competent. Also, it seems abundantly clear that he's a good, decent person.
In part for those reasons, we don't know why he commissioned that three-part attack, though we could make a pretty good guess. Also, we don't exactly know why he would start a column like this, pretty much in the shape of a novel:
ROBINSON (4/2/21): Evidence presented this week in Derek Chauvin’s trial on charges that he murdered George Floyd showed a national audience how the former Minneapolis police officer saw his alleged victim: as a dangerous, “sizable” Black man who had to be controlled, subdued and forced to submit. The message Chauvin sent with his actions wasn’t intended for Floyd alone, and it’s one Black Americans have heard for centuries.
Chauvin didn’t see Floyd as a citizen suspected of a minor, nonviolent crime or as the gentle “mama’s boy” Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, described. To Chauvin and the other officers, Floyd was guilty from the start—guilty of inhabiting an imposing Black male body, a circumstance that has always been a punishable offense in this country.
Why did Chauvin behave as he did that day? At this site, we can't tell you. As Chauvin's trial proceeds, he and his attorney will have the chance to present his defense.
Casting himself in the form of a novelist, Robinson seems to feel he can explain why Chauvin did what he did. In the passage posted above, Robinson explains how Chauvin "saw" the late George Floyd. He then explains the way Chauvin didn't see George Floyd.
Novelizing further, the man who published the punishing columns which helped elect George W. Bush tells us how Chauvin "and the other officers" perceived Floyd "from the start."
It wasn't just Chauvin; it was the other officers too. According to Robinson, here's how the story played out:
"To Chauvin and the other officers, Floyd was guilty from the start—guilty of inhabiting an imposing Black male body, a circumstance that has always been a punishable offense in this country."
It wasn't just Chauvin; it was also Thomas Lane, the first-week-on-the-job rookie cop who was first to interact with Floyd on the fateful evening in question. Chauvin wasn't on the scene yet, but Robinson knows what was going on in Lane's mind too!
To Lane, Floyd was "guilty from the start," Robinson is able to tell us. More specifically, Floyd was "guilty of inhabiting an imposing Black male body."
According to Robinson, that's the way Chauvin saw it. But that's how Lane saw it too.
Robinson's already doing a lot of mind-reading at this point. A few paragraphs later, he's willing to back his claims up.
How can Robinson possibly know what Lane was thinking, feeling or perceiving on the fateful evening in question? Simple! With the permission of his editor, Robinson starts by telling us this:
ROBINSON: After the May 25, 2020, encounter was over, and Floyd’s limp and apparently lifeless body had been taken away by paramedics, [Charles] McMillian is heard on bystander video bravely confronting Chauvin about his actions. Chauvin’s response says everything about the lens through which he saw Floyd: “We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy. Looks like he’s probably on something.”
Think about the fact that Chauvin and the other officers thought they had to “control” Floyd in the first place. And think about how they initiated their encounter with him.
At the start of that passage, Robinson quotes something Chauvin said that evening. As he marvels at Chauvin's remarks, he attributes the (alleged) attitude behind Chauvin's remarks to "the other officers" too.
All the officers thought what Chauvin (allegedly) thought, or at least so Robinson says. He then describes how Lane behaved on the evening in question—and he seems to offer a link to confirm his account of Lane's behavior:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): Police body-camera footage played Wednesday at the trial shows that one of the other then-officers, Thomas Lane, was the first to interact with Floyd. Lane rapped with his flashlight on the driver’s-side window of Floyd’s car, apparently startling Floyd, who opened the door slightly and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Lane’s immediate reaction was to draw his service weapon, point it at Floyd and shout: “Get your fucking hands up right now!”
At that moment, both of Floyd’s hands were near the steering wheel, clearly visible to the officers. It is obvious on the video that he was neither holding nor reaching for any kind of weapon. Yet he suddenly found himself looking down the barrel of a policeman’s gun.
Robinson paints an unflattering portrait of Lane's behavior that day. In fairness, the journalist provides—or seems to provide—a link to a source which will support his damning portrait of Lane's aggressive behavior.
In the very first sentence of that passage, a link appears beneath the words "played Wednesday." To appearances, the link will take us to the "police body-camera footage" which shows Lane behaving in the way Robinson goes on to describe.
Sadly, the link provided in Robinson's column is a "link to nowhere." It takes us to this news report by Holly Bailey—a news report which provides no such footage and no such account of Lane's conduct.
Sad! The "link to nowhere" has become a standard part of modern American journalism. That said, we have no way of knowing how this particular "link to nowhere" managed to find its way into Robinson's column today.
At some point, it's hard to have sufficient contempt for news orgs which function this way. That's especially true when people's live are at stake.
(In fairness, many people are dead in Iraq because of Robinson's earlier conduct. This may be the sort of thing to which successful members of our species eventually become inured.)
At this site, we've burned many hours away chasing "links to nowhere." Additional hours get burned away looking for the actual material to which some major journalist or news org has pretended to link.
In this case, the bodycam footage played at the trial's third day is available here, at the C-Span site. If you click ahead to 3:26:00, you'll see the footage to which Robinson refers—and we'd have to say that Robinson's account of that footage just isn't overwhelmingly accurate.
As we've noted in the past, people are dead all over the world because of the way these journalists play. their various reindeer games. That said, nothing will stop them from playing this way, and there's an obvious reason for that:
We, and they, are all human.
In this morning's column, Robinson tells a highly novelized story—a novelized story which gains its verisimilitude from centuries of brutal racial history. Unfortunately, Robinson wasn't giving an accurate account of a rookie cop's behavior that day, and he was throwing that rookie cop under a bus.
You might call it a high-tech lynching! That's what whatshisname once said.
This type of selective recitation has gone on all over cable this week. We expect to discuss this matter tomorrow. For today, we'll only say this:
Four years ago, Professor Gates and Ava DuVernay engaged in a fascinating exchange as part of the PBS program, Finding Your Roots.
As we've already noted, DuVernay gave a perfectly reasonable reply to a question Professor Gates asked. Her reply didn't make perfect logical sense, but her response was thoroughly human.
Professor Gates, for his part, had posed The Best Question Ever Asked. "What difference does it make?" the well-known professor had said.
Professor Gates has made a suggestion—in the end, our DNA is all just human DNA.
The day we humans come into the world, we do so with plain old human DNA. With respect to the things which actually matter, we don't enter the world with "black" DNA or with "white" or "Asian" DNA.
It's all just human DNA! It actually doesn't matter where the DNA tracks to.
Across the sweep of our various populations, we enter the world equipped as humans are equipped. After that, the world starts having its way.
As DuVernay said in her reply, we individuals will then be "seen" in various ways. In this country, we'll relentlessly be "seen" in differential ways based upon our (perceived) "race."
As an American baby grows, he or she will be perceived as belonging to a "race." This perception is a basic part of "the world the slaveholders made." He or she will be treated differentially based upon that perception.
But it's all just human DNA as we enter the world. After that, human misperception and misbehavior may strongly take command.
Because we're all human, we're all prone to moral and intellectual error. So it can be that a person like Robinson can consign a rookie officer to his death, based upon a novelized tale in which he misdescribes a piece of tape. then provides a link to nowhere.
(Or maybe some editor did.)
This is the way the game is played in this the best of all possible worlds. In the end, this is who, and this is what, we "rational animals" are.
Professor Gates was pointing to a deeply counterintuitive fact. We'd place it right up there with Jesus' counterintuitive bit of advice—his suggestion that we should do unto The Others as we'd have The Others do unto us.
There's no such thing as (biological) race? Subjected to sufficient prodding, every liberal will still say that he or she believes thatt.
We say we believe it, but do we really? What do we secretly believe? We'd planned to go somewhere else today, but Robinson's column appeared.
Those "links to nowhere" are quite widespread. White or black or blue or red, we humans seem to love them!
Gene Robinson is a good, decent person. The feelings he seems to exhibit today are drawn from a long, brutal history.
Robinson is a good, decent person. As Jesus himself seemed to know, we humans—we allegedly rational creatures—are also reliably flawed.
Tomorrow: How the trial is being described. Could Chauvin concoct a defense?