Derek Chauvin is the name of the Minneapolis cop who drove his knee into the prone George Floyd’s neck, caught on video. Chauvin, and the three other officers present, promptly faced homicide charges. Exculpatory evidence is now emerging, but the fallout has already occurred.
I daresay all readers have heard about this incident and will also be aware of the violent riots touched off by it. Three months later, major American cities remain aboil, and whole neighborhoods are set alight nightly, for this and several subsequent incidents.
Leftists, who have made more than their point (many innocent casualties), show no sign of relenting, regardless of concessions. Yet we still have only partial information on each of the incidents.
But for my purpose today, I should like to overlook this “backstory,” and the “forestory” as it were. I will even pass over the observation that every decent human being was appalled by the original video. So why are large segments of the population condemned, as if they were complicit in the crime?
It is anyway too easy to refute arguments advanced by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, or the hyperventilating ideologues of media, academia, and politics who are exploiting the issue – mostly from one side, but also from the other. “The madness of crowds” does not concern me here.
Rather, I shall narrowly focus on the original event – the apparent murder of George Floyd – with what little we still know about it. We had a killer, and the man he killed, so far as we could see; a perpetrator and a victim. The sense of an injustice is a powerful motivator in any human society.
With whom do we identify? I mention this because it is the wrong question.
Our answer might well explain, even determine, where we stand on the question of justice. In this case, it ought to be simple, and is in fact simple for most persons currently alive. I’ve heard of only one person who took Officer Chauvin’s side, and he thought better of it one news cycle later. I doubt even the accused now think that they were in the right.
Yet here I am using “identity” dangerously, as the world now uses it, playing into the hands of leftists. In that world, we identify abstractly. Questions of race, creed, color, and others like, are brought in, whether or not they are immediately relevant. “Identity politics” plays with such fire.
But more fundamentally, does the reader identify with Derek Chauvin, personally? Can he even in his wildest thoughts, imagine himself capable of such behavior? Not, “Am I the sort of person who’d do such a thing?” but, “Why wouldn’t I?”
We cannot know what happened beforehand, and the wild thought must take in anything that could have. Has gentle reader ever in his life hated someone enough that he’s thought of murder? And torture, too, on the way to it.
I’ll assume, if he did, he then dropped the thought, perhaps instantaneously. Some of us have murdered in our hearts, however, and as we should know by now if we are adult, some thousands, millions, have acted on it. Humans have done such sordid things, that by now we should surely grasp what we, as humans, are capable of.
Pause here to consider also the Saints, including those who forgave, in advance, the murderers – of themselves. As Christians, I hope, we would not merely say that they had a deficient idea of justice. They did not just happen to forget the Mosaic Commandment against the shedding of innocent blood, in the excitement of the moment.
For that is what murderers do, not their victims.
The truly radical act of forgiveness, here raised as high as it will go, stands in opposition to the depth of blame, which in our religion we associate with the Devil. At least in our religion as it was, until recently, commonly understood.
We pray for victims, and to our Savior who was, by definition, the perfect innocent. We pray for victims far less perfect; and in moments of confusion between justice and mercy, we pray for victims because we think it is right. All those who prayed, and pray, for the soul of one George Floyd, were right to do so.
So were all those who prayed, and pray, for one Derek Chauvin. Verily, he may be in greater need of prayer, though we cannot know this, and must ultimately leave it to the Judgment of Him who searches hearts more deeply than we can search even our own.
Here I think that the loss of Christian doctrine, starting perhaps from the doctrine of Original Sin, has debilitated us.
It is not just that we don’t forgive; increasingly we are incapable of forgiveness. We may understand that human beings, abstractly, are capable of terrible evil. We forget that I, as a human being, am capable of terrible evil.
And in this forgetting, we lose everything once gained, at terrible cost, through the generations when we were Christianized.
The consequences may be seen in the streets; or in the faces of the rioters; or in the faces of those enraged by the rioters. It is what happens when society, at large, loses the power to forgive. By increments we become more, not less, capable of monstrous acts.
And worse, feeling good about them, as if justice (“karma”) has been served. For in the absence of mercy, magnanimity, forgiveness – the real qualities, lying often beyond the reach of the words – the distinction between murderer and victim disappears. The human soul is itself reduced to a fragment within a fiendish “us versus them.”
Granted, justice must also be served. Perhaps certain policemen should hang, or whatever a liberal consensus decides. But if we are to seek only justice, justice will be the last thing we get. And, as Christians were anciently taught, it doesn’t only end on the gibbet.
*Image: The Crucifixion by the Dreux Budé Master (possibly André d’Ypres), before 1450 [J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles]. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This was once the central panel of a portable, three-part altarpiece devoted to Christ’s Passion.