Nobody likes to be surveilled, but I don’t think Derek Chauvin thought he was doing anything wrong. Nobody likes to be told he’s doing something wrong. When challenged we all have a knee-jerk tendency to double down. So being told to let up might have contributed to his pressing on, in this case down on George Floyd’s neck.
At what point, I wonder, did Chauvin realise that perhaps he was doing something wrong? That what he was doing might have lethal consequences for George Floyd would have been one moment. That it might have serious consequences for Chauvin himself would have been another.
That these are two very different moments is something we can all appreciate. You’re driving. You suffer a split-second lapse in judgment and you hit a pedestrian. Is she going to be okay? is one question. Am I? is another. Be honest. Are you sure they’ll necessarily be asked in that order?
I have no doubt that Derek Chauvin was rightfully convicted. As would you be for hitting that pedestrian. Shit happens. Lapses in judgment happen, split-second or more prolonged. In other words in either case, “Shit happens!” This is precisely the sense of shit happens you’d be right to say to the judge when entering a plea of guilty and hoping for the best. Unless your lawyer convinced you you have a chance of acquittal if instead you just double down. Or maybe Chauvin overruled his lawyer’s advice.
But if Chauvin had been acquitted – if you’d been for hitting that pedestrian – how do you suppose he’d feel? How would you? And for how long? Time heals all wounds, including the wound of having been lethally negligent.
So is Derek Chauvin everyman? We’re tempted to think not. Shit happens, we tell ourselves, but only to bad people. So it’s a good thing that “There but for fortune …” all but invariably rings false. If it didn’t we’d be breathing a sigh of relief not that Chauvin was convicted, but that it wasn’t us in the prisoner’s box.