The Minneapolis police department has only very recently arrested and charged Derek Chauvin with murder in the third degree concerning the death of George Floyd. Despite this – suprisingly at the beginning of this article, but not quite by the end – the technique which he used is actually permitted in Minneapolis police rules. The Police Department’s own manual allows ‘compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg without applying direct pressure to the airway – even with the intention of ‘rendering the person unconscious’.
There’s been a lot of condemnation from police around the country, but how many other departments have similar rules on their books? How many have also taught this method of restraint? How many still do? Putting Derek Chauvin behind bars is only the first step – we need to examine and reform the system which produces officers like him, and which produces officers like the three who stood by for nine minutes as Floyd pled for his life.
And so we come to Killology. S.L.A Marshall was a combat historian who fought in the First World War, and worked to record WWII and the Korean war. In a 1976 study he examined the ‘firing rates’ of officers in the Second World War, and argued that many of them intentionally aimed to miss their targets, a ‘problem’ which could be ‘solved’ by changing training methods.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the recent protests is the huge amount of para-military equipment the officers have at their disposal, even while some American doctors have been improvising PPE out of bin bags.
However, historian Frederic Smoler has argued that Marshall was not involved in combat at all during the First World War – indeed Marshall’s own grandson looked at his experiences in a book entitled Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey of War and Honor, and found that many of them were exaggerated, or entirely fabricated. Despite these shaky foundations, Marshall is relevant to police training through Dave Grossman, a law enforcement trainer who founded the field of ‘killology’ by building on his works. Grossman is a subject of the 2016 film ‘Do Not Resist’, which won the award for best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, and looked at the growing militarisation of the police in America.
Indeed, one of the more disturbing aspects of the recent protests is the huge amount of para-military equipment the officers have at their disposal, even while some American doctors have been improvising PPE out of bin bags. The New York Times notes that Dave Grossman’s classes have become ‘hugely popular in the law enforcement community’. So what goes on in them?
Words fail me, but there are other, more pressing failures.
Middle Jones reporter Bryan Schultz attended a Grossman class, writing:
‘Marching around the stage in a theatre in Lakeport, California, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman tells his audience that they shouldn’t go out looking for people to kill, because those who need killing—the “gangbangers,” terrorists, and mass murderers—will come to them. All they need to do is be ready. “Are you prepared to kill somebody?” he asks me and the small group of “armed citizens” who’ve paid $90 or more to see him. “If you cannot answer that question, you should not be carrying a gun.”’
In the class recorded for ‘Do Not Resist’, this Dr. Strangelove figure jokes to the students that the sex they have after they kill another human being will be the best of their lives: ‘both partners are very invested in some very intense sex’. The officers laughed. Words fail me, but there are other, more pressing failures. An officer who attended one of Grossman’s classes – which was called, again without satire, ‘the Bullet Proof Warrior’ – shot and killed Philando Castile in 2015. He was fired, but acquitted on all charges. Two years later, he was paid $48,500 as a severance fee.
Looking at the officers themselves is only the tip of the landfill – the apparatus which surrounds them enables them to shoot first, it actively avoids asking questions of them later. William J. Lewinski – someone of his surname who does actually deserve media scrutiny – is the founder of The Force Science Institute, which has trained tens of thousands of police officers across the US.
Lewinski has historically argued in police magazines that police officers must shoot earlier than common sense would assume.
He has also appeared as an expert witness in front of grand juries, as well as at many criminal trials and disciplinary hearings. The American Journal of Psychology has described Lewinksi’s work as ‘pseudoscience’, but in spite of this he has continued to present himself as an expert, and work to prevent officers from being held to account. He testified in the charging for the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant – an unarmed black man – as well as many other racially charged cases. The officer concerned was acquitted of all charges except manslaughter. For this, he was sentenced to eleven months, and left prison on parole eight months after the trial.
Lewinski has historically argued in police magazines that police officers must shoot earlier than common sense would assume, such is the speed at which suspects can draw concealed firearms and shoot. His training methods – including playing and dissecting videos of officers being killed in action – seem designed to leave them constantly fearing for their lives during even routine stops, with calamitous consequences.
In 2012 the Justice Department requested a review of his findings –a Washington State University Professor wrote in court documents about one study that it ‘questions the ability of Mr. Lewinski to apply relevant and reliable data to answer a question or support an argument.’ But it appears when the Justice Department close a door they also open a window, because later the same year, the Justice Department paid him $55,000 to aid in defending a federal drug agent who shot and killed an unarmed 18 year old. His company have taught police departments across the United States, including in Milwaukee, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati.
The capacity of the US Justice System to avoid holding the correct people to account is staggering. Worryingly, it shows very few signs of changing. I hope and pray that Derek Chauvin is punished for his actions, but unless the structure which systematically produces and protects officers like him is dismantled, justice will continued to be deferred to victims of police violence in America.
Illustration by Josh Boddington