The easy answer is Derek Chauvin’s knee, but that’s not the full answer. It was Gov. Tim Walz who ordered the stay-at-home order that caused Floyd’s job loss, and without that order, George Floyd would be alive.
To focus on the last link of the tragic series of events is to miss some important lessons. Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for nearly 3 minutes after Floyd became unresponsive. Gov. Walz and the other governors who are working to shut down businesses in this country are, at the least, enabling elements for all the carnage, setting the stage for horror that is not that difficult to predict.
Is that a stretch? I don’t think so.
Floyd was being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Yep. $20. It’s more serious than selling cigarettes singly, but it hardly warrants the death penalty. (FYI—that’s a reference to Eric Garner, whose story is not far from this one.)
I know, I know—the easy and wrong answer is, “This is just the usual racism against blacks by white cops,” or even to take race out of it and say it’s the cops versus all the lower economic class (or at least what a cop thinks is the lower economic class).
Assuming that Floyd was actually guilty of passing a counterfeit $20, the crime for which he was given a death sentence, we can look at the reason why Floyd was passing counterfeit $20 bills: he lost his job. Economic distress causes crime.
Many governors and mayors, fearful for the lives of their citizens and happy to play savior, have clamped down and caused a lot of pressure on specific parts of the economy, destroying livelihoods and causing economic turmoil in real people’s lives, in order to potentially save the lives of others. All the governors’ analyses end at “What do I do to stop virus deaths?” as though that is the only question. It is not.
The link of events that led to the death of Floyd includes a virus that began in another country, but it could happen here. China gets some blame. So does this non-essential/essential division that goes to the federal administration and all its experts, but I want to let all of them off the hook as they didn’t actually do anything or make a law that actually impacts anyone—at least not in a real way.
Nope, it was Governer Walz who issued an executive order, and short-sighted followers yell at people to “just sacrifice” while collecting their government lucre to stay at home.
Tell a plant that it has to live without sunlight for a day or two. Probably not a problem. But tell most plants that they have to just go without sunlight for four months—you are probably looking at a dead plant.
I used to be more oblivious to the plight of people who struggle through life, and I’m still not particularly known for my empathy, but I will admit that an article by the soft-conservative George Will had a real impact on me some years ago, as he opined that a society will struggle when too many individuals see themselves as outside the mainstream of economic activity. And it doesn’t matter if they are wrong about what they believe.
It is easy for governors to say, “I’m protecting lives,” when all they are doing really is “taking action.” The action taken has real implications. If their actions result in real pressure on people already struggling, that matters. During March 2020, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338 percent increase in call volume compared with February 2020.
That’s why Shelley Luther is a hero. Her willingness to challenge the system directly made Gov. Abbott ask himself if he really wanted people to go to jail for the crime of working. The government response released the activity of thousands of people across this state (eliminating jail for the gals in Laredo, for example). We’ll never know if it actually saved lives or not. We can’t count the number of people who never reached that point, because they never got there.
What we do know is that Luther’s actions hastened the opening of other states in other ways. A person who called our office from Massachusetts said that her governor was quoted as “not wanting to be another Texas” while opening that state’s golf courses. Does anyone want to assert that this conversation didn’t happen in many governors’ mansions across the country?
“The Constitution is not suspended when the government declares a state of disaster,” the Texas Supreme Court wrote recently while letting the rest of the state know that it is watching what is going on and subtly stating that government organizations should watch what they are doing.
Sometimes non-ideological persons and liberals listen to conservatives talk and walk away thinking we worship dead paper constitutions. It’s easy to be confused, but that’s not it. We recognize the reasons for these rules that are in the constitutions. In times like these, we are reminded why we have a separation of powers.
Governors should not make law because they screw it up, and those errors create real pressures which result in real death, and if we are going to say that everyone who dies that has COVID-19 died because of COVID-19, then we must recognize that every rock thrown, every person beat up, every store destroyed because of George Floyd died is the predictable result of an executive order who put a person out of work. And yeah, that matters.
This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org.