• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On George Floyd

June 2020

For no excuse other than a pitiable lack of imagination, an uncreative capacity beyond whose furthest limits I’ve not yet been able to reach, I choose to entitle the majority of the articles to which I press my pen, Onsomething. On Fasting, On Eloquence, On the Biden Conundrum, On the Crucifixion Darkness, are but a few to name.

Unoriginal on their surface, they’re the product of a dilettante’s desire—a motivation by which my humble literary pursuits are stirred—that their content, once measured, will provide to the reader an experience of some depth. The hope is that she’ll confront, unexpectedly, a profound and uncircumscribed world of thought, a curious realm of language in which she, like a dreaming Alice, might not mind, through the course of a few sinuous paragraphs, to be lost. I hope she’ll find in their content a depth of cleverness and a well of insight by which, in plumbing the ideas and the floral style in which they’re draped, those thoughtless and boring titles might be happily redeemed.

This titular trend to which I’ve become habituated, I think, is but the natural consequence of my having read, through the many pages of my not many years, a certain style of work—a style of which, by so frequent and insatiable a consumption, I seem to have become unconsciously imitative. It’s the style of which the inimitable Montaigne, the lapidary Voltaire, and the boundless Emerson are the original and best founders. If only as a cheap mimic, a rather ineloquent mime aping at the greatness for which these three are still so rightly loved, it’s a style to which I aspire, and one by which, in small ways, I may have become unknowingly possessed. I can only hope. One is, after all, that which he eats; the lineaments of his skin reflect the lining of his stomach. As it is in the example of food, so it is, even more, in that of books. Such is the result of devouring, for many an impressionable year, a certain literary diet, a wordsmith’s broth of whose sapid flavors a hungry reader, such as I, never has, and never will grow weary.

That said, I hesitated when, upon gathering my thoughts and preparing a short essay on the killing of George Floyd—that apparently innocent, now deceased black man upon whom, in the breezy daylight of a Minneapolis morning, the violence of a depraved police officer was visited—I instinctively etched out the words, “On George Floyd”. Mindlessly, I used these words to serve as the article’s working title, yet my work was far from being complete.

Incognizant of the lack of discretion with which I was approaching the topic, and heedless of the glaring deficiency of my tact, I soon realized the clumsy, even macabre nature of my mistake. I noticed, with but a moment’s reflection, the imprudence and the indelicacy with which I endeavored to treat so fragile and painful a subject—a subject from the freshness of whose wounds we’re still collectively healing. That subject, of course, is the terrible, almost incomprehensible tragedy of the death of a guiltless and unresisting man.

On George Floyd. A man was literally on him, and—despite the circumlocutions with which the county’s initial autopsy report was littered—that is exactly how he died. Occlusion of the vital carotid arteries by which the brain is nourished, asphyxiation of the gasping trachea through which the breath is passed, these, in their gruesome harmony, were the causes of death. That was the means by which his death was unnaturally precipitated. Another person, an entrusted police officer no less, was on top of him and, so positioned, unrelentingly brought to a premature end the unfulfilled promise of Floyd’s broken life. That was the mechanism by which he was exhausted of his air and stripped of the vitality of his world. A man was on George Floyd, a man under whom he needlessly died. That was the cause of our great national frustration and the dizzied upheaval into which it’s since been thrown. A man on another man, the mounted with the taste of asphalt on his tongue and the weight of injustice on his back; the mounter with the heavy presumption of the law on his side, a weight of whose force he might avail himself in pushing further his claim.

This is the truth, the unassailable evidence, to which a young pedestrian’s cellphone camera—with its gruesomely long ten-minutes of filming—bears horrible, but incontrovertible witness. In the video, one watches on the screen before his tear-dabbed eyes, before the crumbling strength of his battered soul, the death of an innocent man by the means of strangulation. It is, in every way, a prolonged and barbaric assault, a type of killing of which the animal kingdom, so often shielded from the curious eyes of our note-taking men, offers but few examples. The boa constrictor, that unholy and god-punished beast, might treat its prey in a proportionate manner, but have not our respective lineages long since diverged? Are we not of a higher, more civilized order than to which, since our expulsion from Eden, the dastardly serpent has been confined? Are we, despite our alleged progress, still in a movement of evolution away from that lowest and most repulsive of beasts?

Apparently not.

The snake of our national nightmare has an identity, a face with whose unsmiling mien the worst and the most notorious of America’s criminals will now vie to compete. He, along with the likes of Bundy, Manson, and Lanza, Ray, Booth, and Oswald, will live in enduring infamy. The man to whom Floyd so undeservedly succumbed, the beast under whose knee he breathlessly pled for life, was a veteran police officer by the name of Derek Chauvin.

A decidedly menacing figure about whom, throughout the tenure of his eighteen-year career, there’d been exactly that many complaints, Chauvin wouldn’t relent from his commitment to end Floyd’s life—despite every humane opportunity to do so. To be honest, it’s the acknowledgement of that fact by which I’m still so perplexed. The prolonged duration of this slow and deliberate killing, the nine-minutes of his misbegotten triumph, is the aspect around which I can’t seem to wrap my head. The unpunctual consideration to check the dying man’s pulse, and the perfunctory manner in which he was transferred to the comfortless gurney when it finally arrived, exacerbate the height of my confusion and the trouble of my thoughts.

While Chauvin might’ve opted to conduct himself with the heightened temperance by which his “fraternal order” is usually restrained, while he might’ve employed the learned propriety by which his institution is so nobly distinguished, while he might’ve shown a deference to the professional conduct of which, in the better days of his improvement, he might’ve become an edifying and public exemplar, he opted, instead, to be a murderer. The choice was his and, no thanks to the supine abetment of those fellow officers by whom he was flanked, he voluntarily made it. He opted for the response of a tyrant into whose hands the gun of oppression had fatally fallen. He chose to “resolve” the situation (of which he appeared to have been the sole instigator) with a gratuitous act of violence, a treatment of a fellow human being of which not even the worst of our enemies would be deserving. He killed a defenseless man. He murdered a blameless citizen. With an air of frigid insouciance, kneeling in a posture of callous disregard, he took from George Floyd the breath of his life.

On George Floyd. I think there’s very little else to say.

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