Michele Bratcher Goodwin of UC Irvine School of Law has published a three-part series on what we can learn from officer-involved killings. The articles look at police violence as symptomatic of broader social and cultural injustice, racism, and anti-Blackness, including in one of America’s most liberal communities. The below is excerpted from Goodwin’s three-part series, shared on Ms. Magazine.
Who killed George Floyd? The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is in pursuit of that answer. Perhaps, not since the O.J. Simpson trial has there been such attention to a criminal law matter. Over the past two weeks, gripping witness accounts and medical expert testimony provide a critical view into the horrific events on May 25, 2020, when Mr. Floyd suffocated underneath the knee of Derek Chauvin—a lynching as Dr. George Woods, an acclaimed neuropsychiatrist, described it.
I asked Dr. Woods: What lessons could be learned from this case? After all, clear video, photographs, witness testimony and medical reports point to Derek Chauvin’s role in callously and inhumanely ending George Floyd’s life. His response, which grounds this series, is that racism is a social determinant of health and life.
In my prior work on the 13th Amendment and also the intersections of sex and slavery, I write about slavery police patrols and laws that normalized the surveillance of enslaved Black people. The fact is, policing is part of America’s origin story and its history of enslavement, kidnapping and trafficking of Black people.
The origins of police, “police patrols” and policing emerge from slavery, and today’s culture of police violence emerges from the culture of slavery. During the antebellum period, failure to produce a permission pass to the local slave police patrol could result in severe physical punishment. Children and women were not spared…
For this series and our reporting on George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an issue emerged over and again by the people we interviewed: trauma. For them, these killings were manifestations of something far too normalized—a horrid representation of a too common phenomenon of racism.
Researchers are beginning to take the health effects of racism seriously, connecting it to a range of diseases, including high blood pressure, hypertension, cardiac disease and premature death. Dr. David Williams, a researcher at Harvard, urges doctors and policymakers to take this seriously, comparing the premature deaths of Black people to a jumbo jet crashing every day.