As many commenters here are prone to say after a particularly outrageous unethical development or incident, “This should come as no surprise.” Minneapolis, which three days ago announced it would pay a record $27 million to settle the lawsuit brought by George Floyd’s family, has already shown itself to be led by feckless, wasteful and irresponsible officials at many junctures over the the past two years, notably in its support for defunding the police. That it should take this latest course, which is neither legally, financially nor logically defensible, is, if not exactly expected, at least consistent.
The news media is spinning, of course. The New York Times, cleverly but, as usual, misleadingly, headlined the story as “George Floyd’s Family Settles Suit Against Minneapolis for $27 Million.” Of course it did: not in the family’s wildest dreams could it have expected to acquire that much unearned wealth from the death of a man who was substantially responsible for his own fate— unlike, for example, the victim in the previous record for such settlements, Breonna Taylor, who was the victim of a shootout between her boyfriend and police in her own home. Her family settled for “only” $12 million. The story, the lede and the significant development is that Minneapolis agreed to pay this much. It certainly did not have to.
To begin with, congratulations are due to Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump. Crump is a remorseless trial attorney and race-hustler, and his pursuit of his legal niche has done incalculable harm to American race relations, racial progress, racial trust, national politics and the United States of America. Nonetheless, he has served his clients superbly, and that is what lawyers are pledged to do. Such a settlement has nothing to do with “justice,” but some vague and altruistic concept of justice has little to do with the legal profession.
I hope Crump has arranged for the amount to be paid out gradually and protected by an annuity, or Floyd’s family will find that it has been leached away completely within five years or less as various friends, relatives, politicians, non-profits and interest groups (especially Black Lives Matter) guilt them into hand-outs, gifts and contributions. Crump himself is presumably going to receive at least 30% of the $27 million, probably closer to 40%. You will notice that none of the news reports mention that. He earned it, but it is still a part of the story that would temper the unrestrained jubilation of the George Floyd cult.
And so it is not reported. That is journalism in the U.S. today.
How is the settlement unethical?
It is irresponsible. It is highly unlikely that the Floyd family could have received a jury award that large, or even close to it, in a civil suit. This is especially true if the emerging evidence in the Derek Chauvin trial shows that it was not the officer’s knee that caused Floyd’s death, and that Floyd’s drug overdose and other health factors, plus the fact that he was resisting arrest, were directly responsible for his demise.
[Aside: Floyd was also suffering from a Wuhan virus infection at the time of his death. Presumably he was listed as a pandemic victim.]
The motivation for settlement is usually to avoid the uncertainty and expense of a trial, as well as the risk of a higher damages award (against the defendant) or a lower one (for the plaintiff). This could not have been the motivation of the City Council here. The most similar precedent, the accidental death in police custody of Eric Garner in New York, resulted in a settlement of $5.9 million.
Why, then, did the City Council vote unanimously to pay such a huge amount?
- It wasn’t their money, just that of the taxpayers of Minneapolis. The city coordinator said during a news conference that with cash reserves, officials were “confident” that the Floyd agreement would not lead to an increase in property taxes. We shall see.
- The politicians were virtue-signaling, Nobody had the integrity to oppose the payout, which would have resulted in naysayers being tarred as racists, if not having their homes burned down.
- Two years ago, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, a white yoga instructor who was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a police officer who is Somali. She was white, the officer was black. The racial bias protests would have written themselves if Floyd’s family didn’t get more: the white woman’s life was worth more than the black man’s life! Facts don’t matter: Ruszczyk was shot after calling 911 by an officer who mistook her for a criminal when she ran out to meet the responding squad car, which is about as distinguishable from the Floyd case as one could be.
- The settlement was a virtual extortion payment. The prosecution of Chauvin and the current trial is a threat to result in more riots down the line. Maybe the exorbitant payment to Floyd’s family will mitigate their size, violence and damage. Maybe.
- Consistent with this motive for the payout, Crump said at a news conference that the agreement would “allow healing to begin” in the city. The family pledged to donate $500,000 of its haul to “lift up” the neighborhood around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where the police arrested Floyd on May 25, 2020 for passing a counterfeit bill. (Let’s see: $27 million minus 40% for Crump off the top, minus another $500,000…my five year estimate may have been optimistic.) Mayor Jacob Frey said on Twitter that the agreement “reflects a shared commitment to advancing racial justice and a sustained push for progress.” So this isn’t so much a settlement for Floyd’s death as a disguised transfer of wealth to the black community and the advancement of a vague social agenda. Though the narrative is that Floyd was a victim of “systemic racism,” the available evidence indicates that Chauvin would have treated him exactly the same if he had been white.
- The settlement was consequentialism in action. It resulted in great part from the magnitude of the hysterical and violent response to Floyd’s death, or the symbolism of a white knee on a black neck. Though not reflecting the reality of the fatal incident, the image alone led to protests in hundreds of cities, including Minneapolis, where a police station and many businesses were burned over several nights of violence. None of this should have resulted in more money for the family; the reaction to the event logically did not alter the extent of the damages due to Floyd’s relations.
There are serious costs of this capitulation beyond the money itself.
Legal experts agree that the settlement might make it even more difficult to find an impartial jury in the Chauvin trial, a task that already seemed nearly impossible because of the media coverage of the case. Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Minneapolis, said that the timing of the settlement could not be worse for the criminal case, and that Chauvin’s lawyers could legitimately seek a mistrial, since jurors’ views could be influenced by the deal.
Thus the City Council’s payment to avoid more rioting may lead to a result that will guarantee more rioting.
Good plan! Putting such fears to rest (I am being arch) , a spokeswoman for Minneapolis said the settlement was “independent and separate from the criminal trial underway.” Oh. No problem then! Carry on!
The settlement will also surely cost other communities around the nation, as this deal has recast what is a “reasonable” settlement for a black man who dies in a confrontation with police, whatever the circumstances, regardless of fault.