George Floyd, Genivaldo de Jesus and the Punishment for Police Officers

In both your country and mine the police seem to be especially brutal towards people of African descent

George Floyd, Genivaldo de Jesus e a punição de policiais

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

The news about Genivaldo de Jesus Santos reached TV worldwide. Likewise you saw on Brazilian TV in 2020 the video showing George Floyd, another black man, being murdered by a white Minneapolis policeman.

We get the news about other countries through a tiny peep hole. It’s directed at the most obvious cliches about the country, such as the US lunacy in the Republican Party, or Cariocas and Paulistanos dancing wildly at carnival.

The cliches are crude, but not always misleading. The Republican Party has indeed gone completely, certifiably crazy. Last week a Republican candidate for Congress from New York state was driven out of the election when he suggested that he might consider voting to ban AK47s from being purchased by teenagers.

And in both your country and mine the police seem to be especially brutal towards people of African descent. Maybe not, says my conservative brother. Could be.

The police anyway are authorized to use coercion on us, sometimes brutal, and they must be so authorized. We do need protection, even brutality, against the bad guys. As the framer of the US constitution, James Madison, noted, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." The German sociologist Max Weber summarized a century ago the very definition of government, as "a monopoly of coercion in a certain territory."

But then we need to watch the monopolist of coercion. The innovation nowadays is that we can watch from cell phones. Otherwise neither Floyd nor de Jesus Santos would be known. The police, like all of us, are skilled at concealing knowledge of their sins. Minneapolis delayed bringing charges against the policeman who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The conviction for murder would not have happened without the video.

But wait. Do we want our police constrained solely by the threat of being videoed and then prosecuted?

No. We want them to be ethical and professional, internally. Punishment does not suffice for a civilization. The police, like all of us, need virtues learned at mothers’ knees, not just being watched. Madison knew that, too. His constitution is now under threat in the US because ethics and professionalism has been set aside, and not just by the police.

In Brazil too?