George Floyd. Artwork by Leonhard Lenz via Wikimedia Commons
[The Way I See It]
This publication has previously written commentaries about how police departments across the country routinely spin and distort incidents following deadly incidents involving African Americans. The public information units within police departments disseminate propaganda, twisting incidents in favor of the police by omitting the most critical information related to the encounters.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a review of tens of thousands of the police’s version of incidents—perhaps hundreds of thousands—across the country and over decades, reveals obvious distortions. In fact, the reviews could even exonerate people who were wrongfully killed and maybe even lead to the release of people were are currently wrongfully incarcerated as a result of spin by police departments.
After Eric Garner was strangled to death on July 17, 2014 in a chokehold by then officer Daniel Pantaleo of the New York Police Department (NYPD) the department provided a misleading account, including to The New York Times. The deception published in the Times is very similar to the distortion disseminated in a press release on May 25, 2020 by the Minneapolis police, after George Floyd’s death.
Here’s the statement issued by the Minneapolis Police Department:
“On Monday evening, shortly after 8PM, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress. Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.
Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department. No officers were injured in the incident. Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident. The GO number associated with this case is 20-140629.”
There was no mention that Floyd was placed facedown on the pavement while handcuffed, with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, depriving him of oxygen even as he cried out that he couldn’t breathe, for nine minutes and 29 seconds, until he passed out and died.
The Minneapolis police department owe an apology to the public and the family of George Floyd.
Now let’s compare the Minneapolis department’s criminal omission of the most critical facts about Chauvin’s execution of Floyd, with the misleading information disseminated by the NYPD to media on July 17, 2014 when Garner was killed.
Here’s the headline of the New York Times article, on July 17, 2014, announcing Garner’s death: “Staten Island Man Dies After Police Try to Arrest Him.” Here’s how the article in the Times appeared in its entirety:
“A Staten Island man died on Thursday after police officers tried to arrest him on the street not far from the Staten Island Ferry, the police said. The man, Eric Garner, 43, went into cardiac arrest as he was being placed into custody around 4:45 p.m. on Bay Street, across from Tompkinsville Park, the police said. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island.
It was not immediately clear why Mr. Garner was being arrested, or if he had been in handcuffs at the time. The police said he had been arrested numerous times, mostly recently in May on charges of illegal cigarette sales. Mr. Garner weighed well over 300 pounds, the police said.”
Here the NYPD owes apologies to the public and the family of Eric Garner. The Times could also acknowledge that the NYPD deceived the newspaper.
Perhaps also unaware that the incident had been recorded on a cell phone camera by Ramsey Orta , the NYPD did not mention the most critical information—that then officer Pantaleo had locked Garner’s neck in a chokehold until he died, and ignored his numerous pleas of “I can’t breathe”—the same cries chillingly echoed by Floyd nearly six years later.
Just as many district attorneys now have conviction review units, I propose that police departments also create incident review units to exhaustively reexamine statements and press releases issued by the police following past deadly encounters, especially with members of the African American community. The incident review units must be independent and cannot be part of the same police departments to be subjected to scrutiny.