The "Accident Chain" and the In-Custody Death of George Floyd

In aviation, an accident chain usually ends with one or more people dead in a twisted mass of burning metal, investigators conducting a lengthy and expensive inquiry, and mourners lashing out at those responsible for a series of fatal mistakes... Sound familiar?

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Earlier this week, we reported that protesters in Washington marched on the home of Chief Carmen Best of the Seattle Police Department. Best was not at the residence at the time of the protest, but she described the visit as large, aggressive, and concerning to neighbors.

We also reported that a group of protesters gathered outside the home of a Colorado Springs officer who had been involved in a fatal officer-involved shooting of a man one year ago. That shooting was ruled by a grand jury to be justified.

There have been numerous other reports of protesters showing up at the residences of law enforcement officers, in front of city buildings, police headquarters, and other places. In many instances, those gatherings turn incredibly violent and dangerous.

Across the nation in places like New York, Baltimore, and Portland, so-called "peaceful protests" have morphed into violent riots, with arsonists burning whole swaths of those cities to the ground and police resorting to rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the rioters.

This, of course, is all in the wake of the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd, an African-American man who died during an arrest by a group of Minneapolis (MN) police officers responding to a report of a counterfeit $20 bill being passed at a local store called Food Cup.

Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin reportedly knelt on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes as three other officers stood nearby. All four officers involved in the incident were later fired, charged with a host of crimes, and arrested.

Chauvin—a 19-year veteran of the force—faces second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in Floyd's death and up to 40 years in prison if he is convicted.

Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane—who were both rookie officers at the time of the incident—and Tou Thao face 40 years in prison if convicted on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd's death.

Complicated and Convoluted

This week, a British Publication called The Daily Mail received—and subsequently published—leaked body camera footage of the incident.

The body-camera footage and associated transcripts were part of a request by attorneys for former officer Thomas Lane to have charges against him dismissed.

It was unclear who leaked the materials, but one thing is most certainly clear: the incident was more complicated than has been reported up to now.

In the video one of the officers asks, "Should we get his legs up, or is this good?"

Chauvin replied, "Leave him."

That other officer asked again if Floyd should be rolled on his side, and Chauvin responded "no."

"OK. I just worry about the excited delirium or whatever," the officer responded.

Time passed, and a bystander asked if Floyd had a pulse.

"I can't find one," an officer said in reply.

They performed chest compressions, but could not revive him.

The Accident Chain

About a week and a half after the Wright Brothers invented the thing, I used to fly airplanes. Okay, not exactly, but it was a long time ago.

As a teenager I flew all sorts of airplanes (even a hot air balloon and a helicopter) thinking at the time that I'd be a professional pilot.

Obviously, that plan did not go exactly as planned, since I've been a scribe for going on three decades.

But some of the lessons learned sitting in the left seat of a Cessna 172 or the front seat of an ACA Decathlon, or in the only seat in a Christen Eagle remain with me to this day.

One of them is that when something goes wildly sideways and the pilot/crew doesn't make the right decisions—or take the best course of action to fix the problem—something else is also almost certain to go wrong.

Then something else will go wrong, and something else, and so on, etcetera.

It's called an accident chain.

In aviation, an accident chain usually ends with one or more people dead in a twisted mass of burning metal, investigators conducting a lengthy and expensive inquiry, and mourners lashing out at those responsible for a series of fatal mistakes.

Sound familiar?

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said in an article several years ago, "If at any point leading up to the accident, a link is broken by a sound decision, the accident is prevented."

The tactics used in the arrest—and subsequent in-custody death—of George Floyd were awful. It's unnecessary for an officer to kneel on the neck of a subject for that length of time. Especially if they are suspected to be experiencing excited delirium.

But that's just the beginning of the accident chain.

Those other three officers could have assisted in ways that might have resulted in Floyd becoming compliant and taken safely into custody, or treated by paramedics who were en route.

The accident chain remained unbroken however, and Floyd died.

Then, command staff in Minneapolis botched the initial response to media inquiries regarding the incident, keeping the accident chain intact.

Had they quickly released the body camera footage—as damning as it is—the widespread mayhem that followed the social media posting of the citizen's cell phone video of the incident might have been mitigated somewhat.

At the very least the department wouldn't have seemed intransigent and uninterested in transparency.

The Perpetual Fallout

Many in the press and in political office have conflated Floyd's death in police custody with accusations of widespread police racism and illegal use of force, fanning the flames for anti-police protesters, who then light stuff on fire in downtown areas and storm the neighborhoods in which cops live with their families.

It is estimated that protests have taken place in more than 2,000 cities across the United States. According to Marketwatch, by the middle of June, the property destruction and looting totaled at least $25 million dollars—and that's in Minnesota alone. And that data is nearly a month and a half old!

Some have estimated that the total cost of the riots across the United States related to the George Floyd death could eventually reach into the range of billions of dollars in insurance payouts and taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, calls to "defund the police" have been made in city council chambers from coast to coast, with New York City already slashing the police budget by nearly a billion dollars. The city council said in a statement that the NYPD 2021 budget "reduces police spending and shrinks NYPD's footprint."

In a written statement, the IACP said that defunding police departments is "a misguided, shortsighted approach to achieving the change that we all seek."

The IACP instead calls for improving police training, policies, and procedures. Of course, that will require both dedicated resources and an enduring commitment from police leaders, community members, and elected officials.

Defunding police is nothing more than cowardly overreaction by elected leaders whose only real objective seems to be remaining elected, and a lack of true leadership from some police leaders who have the power to make actual change in policies and procedures.

Amid calls to defund police departments—and individual officers pulling back from proactive policing—rioting, looting, arson, increased property crime, and violence against police continue unabated in many cities.

The accident chain continues...

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