America's attention for the past two weeks has been completely riveted by the George Floyd killing, just as for the previous two months it was dominated completely by the coronavirus. Most of the discussion of the Floyd killing, with the strong encouragement of the media, has centered on race. But it can't really be fully understood until viewed through the prism of sociopathy.
Derek Chauvin (and his recent counterpart, the semi-forgotten Amy Cooper, the "Central Park Karen" whom I'll get to in a bit) are both almost certainly sociopaths.
When I first saw that video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck, I found Chauvin's utterly depraved indifference to human life infuriating. Floyd had his hands cuffed behind his back at the time, and it's easy to keep a suspect prone on the ground without kneeling on his neck. And Chauvin did it despite Floyd saying he couldn't breathe twelve separate times, despite being questioned by his fellow officers, and he continued to do it for three minutes after Floyd had lost consciousness.
My second reaction was: oh no, if I get angry seeing this video, how are black people going to react? You couldn't possibly ask for a worse visual metaphor than a white man in a position of power with his knee on the neck of a defenseless black man, slowly killing him. It was the ultimate in inflammatory imagery.
Almost every interpretation of this event since has, of course, centered on race. But how much of Chauvin's behavior was actually motivated by racism, as opposed to just being a function of his sociopathy?
A look at Chauvin's history is instructive. He had moonlighted by working security at a Hispanic nightclub, el Nuevo Rodeo. There he had evidently gained a reputation for being quick to pull out the pepper spray at the slightest provocation. In his 19 years on the force, Chauvin had received 18 complaints. Given Chauvin's reputation at the nightclub and his treatment of Floyd, it's a safe bet that at least some -- if not all -- of those complaints were warranted. Did this behavior stem from dislike of other races, or just from a generalized sociopathic dislike of all humanity?
It also came out recently that Chauvin had committed voter fraud by voting in Florida while living in Minnesota. Voter fraud, while not proof of sociopathy, is probably a yellow flag for it.
Chauvin had married a Hmong woman, certainly not something one would associate with what the media likes to refer to as a "white supremacist." Of course, it's entirely possible to harbor no particular ill will towards Asians while being suspicious of, and possibly afraid of, blacks.
A big part of the problem with blacks and the police is that any cop who works in an area with a lot of blacks, no matter what his attitudes when he starts out, will almost inevitably become leery of young black men. A quick look at the statistics shows why. In an average year, blacks, despite being only 13% of the population, commit 53% of the murders in this country, and the rates for the three other major categories of violent crime (assault and battery, armed robbery, and rape) are roughly commensurate. The majority of those crimes are carried out by males between the ages of 15 and 40. So any cop who's been on the job for a while is inevitably going to become wary of that roughly 3% of the population. (And so would you, if you were a cop.)
If the cops rousted old black church ladies on a regular basis, I'd be the first to condemn them; but they don't do that. And when the police are constantly told what horrible racists they are because they are more leery of young black men or because they arrest blacks disproportionately, that's going to breed resentment. (By the way, I also don't blame law-abiding young black men for being resentful about being viewed with more suspicion when they've done nothing wrong.)
In any case, I don't doubt that Chauvin's attitudes on race followed a similar trajectory. Many would say that Chauvin's action was due to a combination of racism and depraved sociopathic indifference. But it's more complicated than that.
One of the things that struck me when first watching that video was how thin -- how downright wimpy -- Chauvin's arms looked. He must have undoubtedly been aware of the fact that there were plenty of black men who in any sort of fair fight could easily overpower him. So fear, which is a distinctly different emotion than contempt, must have entered the equation as well. Add to that the fear of being humiliated in front of his fellow officers.
Obviously if Chauvin had had any idea he was actually killing Floyd, he wouldn't have done it, given that it now basically means the end of his world. He looked several times in the general direction of the videographer while kneeling on Floyd, so he must have been aware he was being taped. And these days, any cop knows that killing a black man comes with potentially greater consequence than killing a white man. (Year in and year out, the police kill roughly twice as many whites as blacks; but when was the last time the killing of a white man got nearly this much publicity or public reaction?)
So, Chauvin was stupid as well as depraved. And while there's no denying his depravity, to really understand his crime it must also be viewed through the prism of stupidity.
(Neither the fear nor the stupidity are an excuse for his crime. But recognizing them does help explain his mindset.)
Chauvin's three colleagues are a different matter. The mob is howling for blood right now, and in the heat of the moment, they want all three of Chauvin's colleagues' heads as well. But a more dispassionate view of them is warranted.
J. Alexander Kueng, 26, a light-skinned black man, was only sworn in as a Minneapolis police officer three months earlier, and was working in only his third street shift. Kueng tried to find a pulse on Floyd, but was unable, and informed Chauvin of this.
Thomas Lane, 37, had been on the police force for exactly four days on the day Floyd was killed. He evidently asked Chauvin twice if they shouldn't roll Floyd over on his side, but was ignored by the senior officer. Lane had been a volunteer tutor to Somali students in math and science.
Tou Thao, 34, had been a police officer since 2012. He appeared to have his back turned to Chauvin during most of the video.
If you've ever worked in a hierarchy, you know how difficult it is to question and criticize your boss. If he's had nineteen years on the job and is your supervising officer, while you're just starting out, it's even harder. The junior officers' thought processes during those fateful eight minutes was undoubtedly something along the lines of: I wish he wasn't kneeling on that guy's neck like that, but he's had nineteen years of experience and I've had none, so, gee, I dunno, maybe that's just the way things are done. And if I piss him off he's going to have it out for me and get me fired, and I need this job.
Add to that the fact that Chauvin is almost certainly a sociopath, which means that the other three cops were probably instinctively afraid of him, sensing that if they crossed him he'd be utterly uninhibited about getting revenge on them. Yet even with all that backdrop, two of them evidently remonstrated with him.
Do you think that if one of those other three officers had tried to intervene with Chauvin more forcefully, there was anything Chauvin wouldn't have stooped to to get back at him? Chauvin would have yelled at that officer, questioned his masculinity, questioned his ability to be a police officer, and questioned his loyalty (while being completely disloyal himself). Then he would have tried to get that officer fired.
I hope they throw the book at Chauvin, and treat his colleagues with mercy.
I've long felt that policing is a profession which attracts not only those who join for the right reasons, but also those who are looking for legal cover to kick ass. The serial killers who've attempted to join police departments is proof of that: Edmund Kemper (the Santa Cruz hitchhiker-strangler) and Kenneth Bianchi (one of the two Hillside Stranglers) both tried to become police, but were rebuffed. Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub killer, also tried to become a law enforcement officer, but did not make the grade. (He was a mass murderer, not a serial killer, but he showed similar disregard for human life.)
I take comfort from the fact that those sociopaths were rejected by the police departments.
But, some sociopaths inevitably slip through. Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State killer, and Gerard Schaefer, a Florida serial killer, are prime examples.
It's unfortunate that Chauvin also slipped through the cracks. I've written before about how most big city police departments guard against sociopaths entering their ranks by using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory as a screening tool. But, somehow, Chauvin got past the psychological testing.
(DeAngelo's police career lasted from 1972 to 1979, when he was fired. Schaefer's career only went from 1971 to 1972, when he was arrested for abduction. Both men were hired before use of the MMPI became widespread.)
Amy Cooper's case had a much more overtly racial component than Chauvin's. When black ornithologist Christian Cooper asked Cooper to leash her dog, since they were in an area for bird-watching where dogs were supposed to be leashed, she refused. Instead, she threatened to phone the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life.
The word "racism" is way overused these days, but that was racism.
As with Chauvin, a quick look at her history indicates that she, too, is a likely sociopath. She had previously stalked a co-worker named Martin Priest and tried to ruin his life when he showed no interest in her. He filed police reports against her twice, once for harassment and once for breaking and entering. She responded with a lawsuit saying that he had stolen $65,000 from her and threatened her life. Her suit was dismissed as baseless, but Priest still lost his job as a result.
The point being, a sociopath will use any trick they can to get their way. There's absolutely nothing they will not stoop to. So my guess is that Cooper was motivated less by racial animus than by fury at someone she felt had crossed her, and, like any sociopath, she has a no holds barred way of dealing with people. With Christian Cooper, the obvious tactic was to take advantage of his race.
The intersection of sociopathy and race is a strange and somewhat surprising one. I once asked a sociopath if he ever went to watch NBA basketball games. He answered, in a tone that managed to combine contempt (for me, for asking such a stupid question), indignation, and annoyance, "Why would I pay to go watch a bunch of baboons run up and down a court?" And he made plenty of other similar comments. But, as a sociopath, he pretty much hated everyone who crossed his path. He could find a reason to hate anyone. He would mock those above him in the organization behind their backs, and mock those below him to their faces.
Here's the surprising part: I never once heard him express quite the same level of antipathy for any individual black that he expressed for a large number of individual whites. I don't doubt that if he'd had more contact with individual blacks, he would have hated them too. But all of the most passionate hatred I ever heard was reserved for whites.
It only gradually dawned on me that he was, in a weird, roundabout way, one of the least racist people I knew. For all his negative comments about blacks in general, he was really an equal opportunity hater. (Compare his behavior to that of the average white liberal, who says all the right things, but would never dream of living in a black area, or sending his child to a majority black school.)
A parallel: this same guy also made a lot of disparaging comments about women in general. (An example: "I've never met a woman who wasn't a pain in the ass. Not one.") But once again, I never got the impression he actually disliked most women any more than he disliked most of the guys he knew. So, in that same weird way, he was actually one of the least sexist guys I knew, as well.
This sociopath was far smarter, better-looking, and richer than either Chauvin or Cooper. But all three of them have basically the same character, which means they're going to perceive most of the people they meet as either obstacles or annoyances. To understand any of them -- and how they relate to all people, not just blacks -- you have to view them through the lens of sociopathy.
So, while both the George Floyd killing and the "Central Park Karen" incident have been defined in the public mind as racial affairs, they're really more about sociopathy. A sociopath never stops being a sociopath, whether he's dealing with whites or blacks.
Thus is something that every black person needs to be told: yes, you will run into unpleasant white people from time to time. But don't make the mistake of thinking that unpleasant white person is perfectly pleasant to other white people. Because he or she is almost certainly not.
On a related note, much of the rioting and looting that has gone on has also been viewed through a racial lens. (Though in fact, while most of the looters have been blacks interested in getting free stuff, most of the Antifa types are whites bent purely on destruction.) However, these things, too, cannot be fully understood until viewed through the same two prisms through which we should view Chauvin: sociopathy, and stupidity.