On Monday in Minneapolis, a white police officer named Derek Chauvin was recorded kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black man. In the video, taken by a nearby witness, 46-year-old George Floyd pleads for the cop to stop because he can’t breathe. Though several witnesses protest that the unarmed man sprawled on the ground is bleeding from the nose and is not resisting, Chauvin does not lift his knee. Other cops stand around.
Even after an ambulance arrives and a paramedic searches Floyd’s neck in vain for a pulse, Chauvin doesn’t stop — he removes his knee only to let paramedics place Floyd on a stretcher. Floyd died.
Chauvin and three fellow cops were fired, the FBI launched an investigation, the city has erupted in flames, and Chauvin was placed under arrest on Friday.
Also on Monday, in a semi-wild section of Manhattan’s Central Park called the Ramble, Christian Cooper, a black man and avid birdwatcher, saw an unleashed dog digging up shrubbery. He asked the dog’s white owner, Amy Cooper (no relation), if she would restrain her dog, as required by park rules there. She refused, saying, “He needs his exercise,” and she told Christian Cooper that she would be calling the police instead. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said as she pulled out her cellphone and dialed 911. “There is a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet, and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog,” she said into the phone, adding, “I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately.”
The New York Police Department responded to the report of an assault in the park.
When they arrived on the scene, they found only Amy Cooper. No summonses were issued. No arrests were made. But Christian Cooper had filmed a video of the exchange, and it was placed online. Amy Cooper, an executive at an investment banking firm, was fired.
Tuesday, President Trump once again promoted the baseless claim that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, when he was a member of Congress, killed Lori Kaye Klausutis, a 28-year-old aide who died in 2001. It wasn’t the first time Trump has pushed the long-debunked murder charge, and he has revived the accusations several times just this month. But then the president of the United States added an extra measure of cruelty.
On May 21, the deceased aide’s grieving widower, Timothy Klausutis, wrote to Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of the social media platform Twitter, pleading that the president’s conspiracy-laden tweets be deleted.
“The President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Klausutis wrote, adding, “My wife deserves better.”
Instead, it got worse. Trump, aware of the family’s plea, doubled down. At a White House event on Tuesday, he kept the vicious lie alive, telling reporters, “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation, very sad, very sad and very suspicious,” he said. “I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it.”
Twitter publicly apologized to Lori Klausutis’s family, but it did not delete Trump’s tweets. (Trump also contributed to the mayhem in the streets that resulted from Floyd’s death; his tweets that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is a “very weak Radical Left Mayor,” attacking protesters as “THUGS” and threatening military intervention that could lead to “shootings” were as helpful as kerosene.)
Trump, Chauvin and Amy Cooper are in the same slime.
Yes, the Twin Cities situation is the latest in a line of videos showing unarmed black men being killed in police encounters.
And yes, the Central Park scene was different, a white woman making a false accusation against an innocent black man — a vicious and vintage-American pursuit that for centuries has endangered, imprisoned and destroyed black men.
Yes, too, both are distinct from Trump’s practice of using the presidential bully pulpit to blatantly lie, smear and eke out all sorts of damage — just for his personal benefit.
But the brutal cop, devilish dog-walker and despicable president share one condition: They carried out brutish acts apparently unencumbered by the morals that restrain decent, civilized people. To remind: Minneapolis’s paroxysms of rage were induced by the sight of an unarmed black man dying while a white cop kneeled on his neck.
I cannot say how Derek Chauvin and Amy Cooper reached the posts they held before getting fired this week.
But H.L. Mencken presciently saw this day coming when he wrote in Baltimore’s Evening Sun on July 26, 1920, “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
America, we reap what we sow.
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An earlier version of this column misquoted H.L. Mencken. This version has been updated.