Some of you may remember the cult classic Billy Jack from 1971, and if so, the title character’s remark that, “When policemen break the law, there is no law!”

That might be a bit too strong. Policemen are people. People break laws. Sometimes people break the law when they’re on the job. So that Derek Chauvin broke the law when, in the course of his duties, he murder George Floyd, doesn’t mean “there is no law”. For there to be no law the police’s flouting of the law would have to be systemic.

Of course what counts as systemic depends on who’s doing the counting. Whoever’s doing the counting, there’s no magic number that marks the line between the rule of law and a return to the jungle. It’s whether one feels he can count on the rule of law. And – or so I’m told – in America that feeling hangs largely on the colour of one’s skin.

Even if it turns out – though I suspect it wouldn’t – that there’s as much blue-on-white violence as blue-on-black, there are other reasons black Americans fear the police. And it’s those other reasons that are exacerbating this distrust. The lynching of a black man means something that the lynching of a white man does not.

As a white Canadian, I have very little skin in this game, save that I’ve observed there’s a sub-game being played between (what I’ll call) the Cool-Hands and the Hot-Heads. The Cool-Hands acknowledge that ‘tis always thus when one people colonizes another. Think of the Normans and the Celts. But, they remind us, in time the Brits fucked their way into one people. So black America just needs to give it another couple hundred years.

In his cooler moments, the Hot-Head doesn’t deny this. But in addition to being a black man, he’s also just a man. And a man doesn’t have two hundred years. I suspect that if I were black in America I’d be a Hot-Head. And if I were a Hot-Head, here’s what I might be thinking:

Between 1963 and 1975, a half a million black men came back from Vietnam with an M16 rifle on one shoulder and a chip on the other. It wasn’t Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” that turned it around for blacks in America. It was white fear of a race war. But those M16s only got us facing the right direction. If we’re going to move in that direction, maybe, just maybe, we should think about bringing them back up from the basement.

So it’s probably a good thing that I’m both white and Canadian.

Categories: Editorials

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3 replies

  1. Dear Paulosophical,

    Are philosophers in Canada free to distort the facts?

    You say Officer Chauvin “murdered” George Floyd in Minneapolis. The official autopsy report notes that Floyd, a muscular man over six ft. tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, resisted arrest. It continues: “The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of
    traumatic asphyxia or strangulation…. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely
    contributed to his death.” Does this sound like murder to you?

    You assert your disbelief that there’s as much “blue-on- white violence as there is blue-on-black.” In fact police killings of whites outnumber those of blacks by two and a half to one.

    You indulge in a bloodthirsty race war fantasy: “Between 1963 and 1975, a half a million black men came back from Vietnam with an M16 rifle on one shoulder and a chip on the other. It wasn’t Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” that turned it around for blacks in America. It was white fear of a race war.” In fact only 275,000 blacks served in Vietnam compared to 2,300,000
    whites, which numbers alone should temper your dream of race war. And none of the veterans shouldered an M-16 on the way home, all assigned weapons having been turned in as required.

    Try a little harder to get the facts before you concoct your column. You’re losing credibility fast.

    Your American friend,
    Frank Miceli


    • Once again, my thanks for Frank Miceli for his friendly amendments to my last post, though I have to point out that his report on the Floyd autopsy was a bit premature. The official autopsy report is now that his death was indeed a homicide. As to what Frank dubs my “race war fantasy”, I think I made clear in my penultimate post that I DON”T think anything more will come of this. What I said was, “#Black Lives Matter, but only for a week.” Moreover many Canadians, myself included, are very worried that America’s troubles could spill north across the 49th. We’d much rather you guys get your house in order peacefully.


  2. The finding that a death was a homicide simply means that it wasn’t due to natural causes or to an accident or suicide, that it was the killing of one person by the actions of another. Now that charges including murder have been laid, it is up to a jury to determine if the officers’ actions constitute murder, or indeed any form of culpable homicide, under the laws of Minnesota. Regardless of whether the specific actions were justified or reprehensible, the State must still first prove that they caused his death. We should leave them to it and avoid further prejudicial comments.
    For a nuanced look at “positional asphyxia”, distinct from complete obstruction of the airway (which latter precludes any speech), Google “If he can scream, he can breathe.” One of the hits is a piece in a police trade journal by a senior EMT who trains police in the hazards of restraint during arrests, written a few years before the Minneapolis event, debunking this commonly asserted truism.


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