25 April 2021
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel in America? Over here, it’s the headlights of a train coming towards us.
Derek Chauvin, a police officer who had already been the subject of numerous complaints about his brutality, was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes. The second-best thing was that the jury returned its verdicts swiftly and unanimously so they obviously had no reservations.
The prosecution case included the video recorded by Darnella Frazier, an exceptionally brave witness who filmed the murder taking place. She was only 17 at the time and has been praised by the Minneapolis police chief but, sadly, she now lies awake at night wondering if she could perhaps have intervened and saved his life.
And it’s still going on. As the Rev Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader activist and founder of the National Action Network, said last week “Eleven months ago, I delivered the eulogy for George Floyd. It grieves me that I am returning to do the same for Daunte Wright”.
(Daunte Wright was shot in the chest at close range while police attempted to arrest him during a traffic stop for an outstanding arrest warrant. The officer who pulled the trigger said she’d meant to use her Taser but grabbed the wrong weapon. She’s since been charged with second-degree murder.)
My only encounter with the American police was in Carmel, California in the late 90s when a flock of birds was resting on a rocky point between the coastal path and the sea. Naturally, I shinned over the single piece of wire edging the path to get closer to them and take a photograph and, as I was focussing and clicking way, I heard some shouting behind me.
I tend to assume that people can’t possibly be shouting at me and it wasn’t till my travelling companion called my name that I turned to see her standing next to a gun-toting uniform that had ‘Sheriff’ written on it. I never saw ‘Twin Peaks’ but I did read one of Nancy Banks-Smith’s critiques in which she talked about a character called Shurf and it conjured up an image that’s stayed with me.
Anyway, they obviously wanted me to come back so, on principle, I took one final photograph and walked back to where they were standing, surrounded by a growing group of interested spectators. Shurf and I then had a conversation which went roughly as follows:
- What are you doing? You’re not allowed over there.
- I was just taking photographs of those birds.
- It’s dangerous, you might get knocked over by a big wave.
- The sea’s very calm.
- Sometimes large waves come from nowhere.
- The sea’s thirty feet below where I was and a hundred yards away.
- These waves can be very big and you could have been killed.
At this point, I decided Shurf didn’t have any sense of proportion and was performing for the crowd so I went into my default mode when dealing with authority figures with guns and apologised and humbly listened to his lecture and we parted, if not as friends, at least not as killer and corpse.
Nowadays, it’s rather different and the American police will kill someone for allegedly trying to pass a dud $20 bill, especially if they’re black. Some of my (visibly white) friends in America always feel their stomachs lurch when a police car comes up behind them.
The guilty verdicts against Chauvin were themselves historic: he was the first white officer ever held accountable for killing a Black person in the state of Minnesota, but the fight for equality, justice and police reform has only just begun. Somebody has even suggested that all law enforcement bodies should be dismantled and built again from scratch on a federal basis.
Chauvin himself currently faces up to 40 years in prison where the majority of other inmates will be (a) black and (b) not his fans.
Over here, the government has been described, even by members of its own party, of cronyism and sleaze. A former prime minister has been accused of lobbying government for personal gain, which may or may not have been legal, the current prime minister has allegedly misused party money at the behest of his fiancée and a former special adviser, who broke the lockdown rules himself last year by driving from London to County Durham, has described some of Boris Johnson actions as “mad and totally unethical” and accused him of a lack of integrity. Pots and kettles. It doesn’t look good for Johnson, except that nobody ever believed he had any integrity anyway, and Dominic Cummings is just proving that hell hath no fury like a spad scorned.
The latest Opinium poll indicates that almost 4 of every 10 voters think Johnson and the Tory party are “mostly or completely corrupt”. Yawn. What’s more surprising is that 3 of every 10 voters believe the Conservative party is “clean and honest”. However, the poll was taken before Cummings came out of his box.
I never thought I’d ever say this but what a fascinating week for football! Fifteen of Europe’s richest clubs announced they were founding a European Super League. Everybody from the prime minister to the fans who buy tickets for the matches rose up in arms and, by Wednesday, the idea was dead. You must be pretty stupid not to do any research or consult your supporters or consider the effect on other football clubs before announcing something like that; it just shows all too clearly the difference between the owners who are in it for the money and the fans who are in it for The Beautiful Game.
In a rather different but equally unsurprising way, an American reporter, Craig Unger, has just published a book, “American Kompromat”, in which a former KGB spy, Yuri Shvets, alleges that America’s last president has been a Russian “asset” for decades. (He makes it clear that there’s a difference between “asset” and “agent”; the latter actively pass information to their controllers while the former are too thick to realise they’re being manipulated.)
According to Shvets, the KGB’s assessment of Donald Trump was that “In terms of his personality, the guy is not a complicated cookie, his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity.”
Of course, former spies who’ve changed sides aren’t necessarily the most reliable of sources but, in 2019, Robert Mueller confirmed that Russia had offered Trump a lucrative building deal in Moscow and Trump had lied about his dealings with Russia, giving them the additional leverage of threatening to expose his lies.
And, for those of you thinking of buying a driverless car (not me for sure), remember the Tesla with nobody at the wheel that misjudged a curve a bend at high-speed last week, hit a tree and burst into flames, killing both its middle-aged occupants. The Tesla company was asked for comment but has no media relations department so I still don’t know if the tree survived.