- Marq Claxtonretired New York Police Department detective, 9/11 World Trade Center first responder and director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance.
This week at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, numerous members of the Minneapolis Police Department have taken the stand and testified that Chauvin violated policy by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine-and-a-half minutes, and the emergency room doctor who tried to save Floyd’s life said his chances of living would have been higher if CPR had been administered sooner. The trial is putting a spotlight on “the disproportionate killing of Black people by police” in the United States, says Marq Claxton, a retired New York Police Department detective who is now director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. He argues that until police officers are arrested, charged and convicted for such killings, “these tragedies will continue to occur.”
AMY GOODMAN: The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is entering its eighth day. Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder, as well as manslaughter, for killing George Floyd last May. Over the past three days, numerous members of the Minneapolis Police Department accused Chauvin of violating department policy by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine-and-a-half minutes, while ignoring pleas from Floyd that he could not breathe. Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo testified against his officer in a rare move. Here, he’s being questioned by prosecutor Steve Schleicher.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: When, do you believe, or do you have a belief as to when, this restraint, the restraint on the ground that you viewed, should have stopped?
POLICE CHIEF MEDARIA ARRADONDO: Once Mr. Floyd — and this is based on my viewing of the videos — once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped. There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds. But once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that, in no way, shape or form, is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training. And it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.
AMY GOODMAN: Medaria Arradondo is Minneapolis’s first Black police chief. He was also questioned about the decision by Chauvin and the other officers not to administer first aid.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Did you see the defendant or any of the officers attempt to provide first aid to Mr. Floyd?
POLICE CHIEF MEDARIA ARRADONDO: I did not see any of the defendants try to attempt to provide first aid to Mr. Floyd.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: And based on these observations, do you have an opinion as to whether the defendant violated MPD departmental policy 7-350 by failing to render aid to Mr. Floyd?
POLICE CHIEF MEDARIA ARRADONDO: I agree that the defendant violated our policy in terms of rendering aid.
AMY GOODMAN: The emergency room doctor who tried to save George Floyd’s life at a Minneapolis emergency room testified Monday that Floyd likely died from a lack of oxygen. Dr. Bradford Langenfeld said Floyd’s heart had already stopped beating by the time he arrived at the hospital. During questioning by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, the doctor said George Floyd’s chances of living would have been higher if CPR had been administered sooner.
JERRY BLACKWELL: Is the administration of CPR right away important for you to know when you’re dealing with a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest? Is it important for you to know about that?
DR. BRADFORD LANGENFELD: It is, in the sense that it informs the likelihood of survival.
JERRY BLACKWELL: And what do you mean by that, Dr. Langenfeld?
DR. BRADFORD LANGENFELD: It’s well known that any amount of time that a patient spends in cardiac arrest without immediate CPR markedly decreases the chance of a good outcome. …
JERRY BLACKWELL: Was your leading theory, then, for the cause of Mr. Floyd’s cardiac arrest oxygen deficiency?
DR. BRADFORD LANGENFELD: That was one of the more likely possibilities. I felt that, at the time, based on the information I had, it was more likely than the other possibilities.
JERRY BLACKWELL: And, Doctor, is there another name for death by oxygen deficiency?
DR. BRADFORD LANGENFELD: “Asphyxia” is a commonly understood term.
AMY GOODMAN: The former head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s field training division, Katie Blackwell, also testified Monday. During questioning, she accused Derek Chauvin of violating the department’s use-of-force policy. A warning: This contains graphic images of police violence.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Is this a trained technique that’s by the Minneapolis Police Department when you were overseeing the training of it?
KATIE BLACKWELL: It is not.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: And why not?
KATIE BLACKWELL: Well, use of force, according to policy, has to be, you know, consistent with MPD training. And what we train are neck restraints, the conscious and unconscious neck restraint. So, per policy, a neck restraint is compressing one or both sides of the neck using an arm or leg, but what we train is using one arm or two arm to do a neck restraint.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: And how does this differ?
KATIE BLACKWELL: I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is. So, that’s not what we train.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the trial of Derek Chauvin, we’re joined by Marq Claxton, retired New York Police Department detective, now serves as the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. He joins us from Columbia, South Carolina.
Marq, thanks so much for being with us. Well, let’s start off with this challenge to the blue wall of silence — a lieutenant, a commander, a training officer, the police chief himself condemning the actions of Chauvin. Yet, at the same time, this officer, Derek Chauvin, worked for something like 19 years, with 18 complaints against him. Why was he even in the field? So, if you could address both of those?
MARQ CLAXTON: Well, it is significant that there is some testimony for the prosecutors against the interests of Derek Chauvin. But, as you point out, this is an officer who comes with a history, a documented history, one that we may not have an opportunity — we will not have an opportunity to hear much about in court because of the judge’s rulings. But what’s happening now is a presentation, the prosecutor’s presentation, utilizing a lot of the information on procedures and policies in the department, and some of the police representatives, of course, are reflexively defending their organization and the integrity of the profession itself.
However, I will say that Chief Arradondo, the leader of Minneapolis police, really has shown — has set a particular standard about professional excellence, etc., and intolerance of certain conduct. From the very beginning, he was clear in his decision to terminate all the officers involved. He’s been on the record about the relationship, or discontinued the relationship with the labor union there, the police union. And so, he seems to be a more progressive-minded police professional. But history has shown us that the systems are very resilient, and they tend to snap back to the way things always are.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marq Claxton, I wanted to ask you — before the trial began, Minneapolis reached a civil settlement with the Floyd family of $27 million. To what extent did, do you think, the decision to reach a civil settlement even before the criminal trial, in essence, free the department and its personnel to be so openly and so unusually participating in the prosecution side of the case?
MARQ CLAXTON: It really freed them tremendously, because they realized that there was no probability or possibility that those individuals will come back into the ranks of the police department. But what really freed them were Chief Arradondo’s statement days after the video became public and he became aware of the video, because his actions indicated a certain intolerance that resonated throughout the department.
And that, in essence, is what’s really important about progressive leadership, especially in law enforcement. I’m under no illusions that there is some sea change afoot, that there is some significant reform movement across the nation, although I think there are significant efforts — and I support all of those efforts — for improving the relationship between police and communities, but, more importantly, making criminal justice agencies, police agencies more efficient. But, as I indicated, history tells us that there is a certain stubborn resilience within policing that will continue this cycle of toxic police culture that too often leads to fatal encounters with primarily Black and Brown people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking about that resilience that you’ve mentioned, the issue of — because, as you note, there may be particular individuals, like the Minneapolis police chief, who, at a given moment, will try to effect change. But what can lead to structural change? As you know, for years, and we’ve discussed this in the past, how African American police officers’ groups within these various departments have struggled for a more progressive view but have always, to some degree, been beaten back by the existing, white-dominated police unions. What would lead to real structural or systemic change?
MARQ CLAXTON: A couple of things, and some of them are important even in this particular case. But what really would lead to the most significant change, a cultural change in policing, a behavioral change for individual police officers, is to expose them to additional liability. You know, the elimination of qualified immunity, for example, is significant, because once you have police officers feel that they are personally vulnerable and, more importantly, personally responsible for their conduct, you’ll find that they’ll adjust their methods and their perceptions of people.
And also, in line with that, once you actually convict — once you arrest, convict and sentence police officers, consistent with how you sentence individuals outside of law enforcement, for crimes that they committed under the color of law, you’ll see that there will be a significant shift in how police respond and react. Right now — and we’ve had cases before where there have been arrests, there have been prosecutions. Most of those cases end up with no sentence and no convictions. And that’s significant. It’s supportive of toxic police culture when you allow your law enforcement professionals to, in essence, get away with it. So, that would significantly shift the culture.
And also, dealing straightforward with the police unions. Chief Arradondo in Minneapolis, once again, has led the way in this regard. They decided, after this particular incident — this was just, you know, the straw that broke the camel’s back for them. They decided to eliminate the police union as the negotiating agent for the officers, right off the bat. That’s something that really should be replicated in other jurisdictions, because police unions should not be going beyond the health and welfare and the salaries, the benefits of their particular members. When you have unions and organizations allowed to tamper with, create or write policy, police policy, you know, it’s bound that things are going to go wrong. So, those three things could significantly change the police culture, toxic police culture.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Memorial Day, the day that this white officer, Derek Chauvin, well, is on trial for murdering George Floyd, and go before that to the other officers. You have this situation where, at the Cup Foods, a cashier thinks a bill is counterfeit — not clear if George Floyd knew this at all — and now that cashier lives with enormous regret that he ever did anything in alerting his — you know, the supervisors at the store. But jurors have also been shown police bodycam footage of officer Thomas Lane pulling a gun on Floyd — now, again, they’ve been called for a counterfeit bill — pulling a gun on him within seconds of approaching Floyd’s car. A warning to our audience: The video is disturbing.
THOMAS LANE: Let me see your hands.
GEORGE FLOYD: [inaudible], man. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
THOMAS LANE: Stay in the car. Let me see your other hand.
GEORGE FLOYD: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
THOMAS LANE: Let me see your other hand!
GEORGE FLOYD: Please. Please, Mr. Officer.
THOMAS LANE: Both hands!
GEORGE FLOYD: I didn’t do nothing.
THOMAS LANE: Put your [bleep] hands up right now!
GEORGE FLOYD: Please! Please! I didn’t do anything.
THOMAS LANE: Let me see your other hand.
GEORGE FLOYD: I didn’t do nothing. All right. What did I do, though? What did we do? I didn’t do nothing.
THOMAS LANE: Put your hand up there. … Step out of the vehicle and step away from me, all right?
GEORGE FLOYD: Yes, sir. Man.
THOMAS LANE: Step out and face away. Step out and face away!
GEORGE FLOYD: OK, Mr. Officer. Please, don’t shoot me! Please, man! Please!
THOMAS LANE: I’m not going to shoot you. Step out and face away.
GEORGE FLOYD: Brother, I’m going to get out, man. Please, don’t shoot me, man.
THOMAS LANE: I’m not shooting you, man.
GEORGE FLOYD: Please, man! I just lost my mom, man.
THOMAS LANE: Step out and face away.
GEORGE FLOYD: Man, I’m so sorry.
THOMAS LANE: Step out and face away!
GEORGE FLOYD: Please, don’t shoot me, Mr. Officer! Please, don’t shoot me, man!
AMY GOODMAN: From the beginning, you have George Floyd pleading for his life. He doesn’t know why the cops have pulled a gun on him and are pulling him out of his car. Marquez Claxton, can you talk about this kind of policing, and then this issue of the three of them, not just Chauvin, with their knees on his back and holding his legs, while he is handcuffed with his hands behind his back?
MARQ CLAXTON: Over the past day or two, they’ve been discussing, during the course of the trial, certain concepts with their policing, training concepts. They’ve discussed proportionality. They’ve discussed the use-of-force continuum, which basically is the amount of force that you use when you’re dealing in particular situations, and proportionality, whether or not the amount of force you’re using is proportional, is correctly proportional, to the “resistance,” quote-unquote, that you are receiving.
What we know, and what we’ve experienced, what we’ve documented, what’s been established, is that those theories of proportionality don’t apply when police deal with Black people. We’ve seen it time and time again, that there is an excess of force used when dealing with Black people, regardless of the offense.
Here you have an allegation of an alleged counterfeit bill, which is a nothing situation. It really is a nothing issue. What should be a simple, routine police response involving no force at all turns into a killing on the street, with other police officers involved in that killing. And I think that they’ve been — they haven’t been appropriately charged for their involvement, as well.
And also what you have are individuals outside of policing, civilian witnesses, who are more concerned about the sanctity of human life — something else that came up during the trial — more interested in the humanity of George Floyd, more interested in protecting and preserving George Floyd’s life than the police officer, the “trained,” quote-unquote, professional police officers on the scene, who took an oath to protect and preserve human life. There was a role reversal.
But it happens because of the disproportionate amount of force, the disproportionate killing of Black people by police. It’s race-based. And until we come to that realization, until we acknowledge that, until we accept it and begin to work through it and begin to eliminate it by arresting, charging and convicting police officers, these tragedies will continue to occur.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marq, I wanted to ask you about something we mentioned earlier, the history of complaints against Derek Chauvin, 18 complaints in a 19-year career as a police officer. Now, admittedly, many of them were not upheld complaints, but that is not unusual, because departments rarely do really good investigations of these complaints. But I’m wondering, from your own experience, what’s the normal track record for officers in terms of receiving complaints. And what’s the modus operandi of how these are dealt with by most departments?
MARQ CLAXTON: Well, you see, there is no normal for complaints. It really depends on the way you work, how you operate, what units you’re involved in. You know, some units, you’re really removed from contact with the public on a regular basis, individual contact with the public. Other units, you’re more exposed. It also depends on your personality, what you bring in to it. You know, some people are super hyper, super aggressive, and have these interactions that are not respectful. So they’re going to tend to get more complaints.
I think what’s really insulting is the fact that much of the history of Derek Chauvin — and we’re touching on it here — is not allowed into the courtroom, but all these kind of accusations and allegations against the victim, George Floyd, are allowed. So, his history is significant and substantive enough to bring into the courtroom, but the defendant, charged with murder, two separate counts of murder, is kind of protected, because the judge felt that it was more provocative than probative. And I think that really is a shame. But it’s typical of a criminal justice system that disproportionately and negatively affects Black and Brown people.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to turn to another subject, Marq, being that you’re a former New York City police officer, front-page piece in The New York Times, “D.A. to Void Up to 90 Convictions Tied to Fired New York Detective,” Joseph Franco, because now he has been indicted on a number of counts; videotape that shows the drug deals he said took place never took place. They are throwing out up to 90 convictions tied to him. And, of course, it’s expected that many of them will be indictments of Black and Latino people. Can you talk about the significance of this?
MARQ CLAXTON: It’s hugely significant. And that particular Franco case really ties into something that happened in Brooklyn during the time when Ken Thompson was the DA there and him reviewing cases of another detective, Louis Scarcella, in Brooklyn, and the amount of cases that were kicked out because of various infractions allegedly committed by Detective — then-Detective Scarcella.
Listen, when people lose confidence and faith in the systems that are supposed to supply justice, then society is in peril. And you can’t have a system set up where those who represent the ideas of justice, the ideals of justice, operate outside of the law and penalize innocent people. And so, it is hugely significant whenever that occurs.
And all the district attorney’s offices really should be reviewing cases, because many of them now have their own lists of individual police officers, law enforcement officials who they’ve deemed to be not credible. They should review all cases assigned to all of those individuals, just to ensure that the application of justice is fair.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Marquez Claxton, retired New York Police Department detective, now director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance.
When we come back, we speak with journalist Victoria Law about her new book, “Prisons Make Us Safer”: And 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration. Stay with us.
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