I Was Just Thinking: Big Question For See-No-Evil Backup Cops–Why Did You Not Step In?

By Norma Adams-Wade
Founding Member of NABJ

There practically is nothing left of the George Floyd murder case that has not been exposed, explored, and condemned – an unarmed and restrained Black man mercilessly killed by a seemingly callous White cop. Floyd died on Memorial Day, May 25 after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. During that time, Floyd laid handcuffed on the ground – two other officers also holding him down, a fourth standing guard. Floyd continuously pleaded: “I can’t breathe!”

Finally, near his end, he uttered “Mama, Mama,” and died, officials say, right there under Chauvin’s knee. Floyd’s pleas have become cries heard ’round the world as protests have erupted globally from people of all colors, creeds, and political ties. Protesters and commentators have issued scathing rebukes of the four officers’ murderous actions. Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for cigarettes at a nearby retail store.

Floyd’s body has been laid to rest now after a lengthy and emotional televised funeral service on June 9 in Houston, his home town that he left to move to Minneapolis. The police officers have been charged with their crimes and await trial. Public protests have swelled and settled into a determined pattern of never-say-die until-justice-for-Floyd-rains-down-like-water from-on-high. But I was just thinking…the larger-than-life question, the elephant on that sidewalk where Floyd died, is: why did none of the three other officers intervene while the evil faced, hands-in-pocket alleged murderer Chauvin performed his prolonged, demonic, fatal deed? 

Why? We, humans, are obsessed with this bothersome, pesky question when logic, reason, and decency elude us. I am sure you, like I, have long heard of military training where subordinates must never challenge a superior officer on pain of being court martialed for insubordination. But is that what this was? In the Floyd wrongful death case, does such a militarized philosophy apply? Surely the other officers’ inner conscience must have told them that something was awry, that Chauvin’s behavior – that has led to a secon-degree murder charge – was not “normal.” 

At least one attorney has told us – and we will hear more as the trials unfolds – that at least one of the other officers was so new to the job – less than a week on duty – that he felt he had no right to challenge the more-seasoned Chauvin, as he pressed the life out of the 46-year-old incapacitated former high school star athlete.

Media reports say another attorney claimed publicly that his client told other officers “You shouldn’t do that,” as they pinned down the helpless captive. Lawyers, we know, will work feverishly to concoct defenses that juries perhaps will buy, and maybe, in this case, throw out the charge that the three rookies are guilty of aiding and abetting a killing. The public is digging deep in its consciousness, searching for effective ways to transform the ongoing protests into solid actions that will produce positive change. One example is a proposed law that Democratic State Rep. Lorraine Birabil of Dallas is designing. 

The proposed law – if it makes its way through the legislative process – would make it a crime for police to remain silent when they see another officer using excessive force. The proposed law uses the same principle that community and education leaders are using to teach students to stand up against bullying: “If you see something, say something” is the growing philosophy and one that makes good sense on its face. Terrance Hopkins is president of the Dallas Black Police Association and a 29-year Dallas police officer and tactical planner. Hopkins has been very vocal in various media about his association’s position on the Floyd killing – particularly actions of the three rookie officers.

In a lengthy LinkedIn interview with broadcast journalist Tashara Parker, also a WFAA-TV (Channel 8) anchor, Hopkins said rookie officers are free to challenge a veteran officer; and in Floyd’s case, the three other officers should have stepped in to stop Chauvin. “It is incumbent upon any partner-officer to say ‘Hey you are going too far. Let me handle it. You step back…’” Hopkins said. “In law enforcement, we know that (expectation) to be true. But do you see it done a lot of times? Sometimes not. In this case, folks just stood idly by when they could have changed the outcome…” Similarly, the world is waiting, but not idly, to see the trial outcome.

Norma Adams-Wade is a veteran, award-winning Journalist, a graduate of UT-Austin and Dallas native. She is also one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.