George Floyd’s killer, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, has a history that reminded me of an incident and individual from my days working as a paramedic for the FDNY in Brooklyn. My partner and I were dispatched to a developing riot. As we turned across Surf Avenue, we saw three police cars racing ahead of us. They got to our address, they opened their trunks, and the “hats and bats” (helmets and riot batons) came out.

They were there for one of ours. We looked up which one, but knew before we had the answer: it was a medic who single-handedly caused almost all of our problems those days, the one I had nicknamed “Abortion Factory” (it never stuck). He had a lady in heart failure, her lungs filling with water. Acute pulmonary edema, which we abbreviate as A-P-E. He called for a second pair of hands, and when he said A-P-E, the patient’s son said “you think we are so stupid we don’t know how to spell ape.” A giant donnybrook in the patient’s apartment followed, with the patient’s family arriving in concert with additional police, just to keep things balanced. The patient’s son had both of his arms broken, and had to go into the shower to decontaminate him of the off-gassing pepper spray. None of this helped A-P-E lady, who almost died quietly, hiding in the back room (people who can’t breathe are almost always quiet).

The point: anyone else would have talked their way out, apologizing, offering to address the complaint after treating the emergency. I’ve never seen anyone maintain a high pitch of anger for the 40 minutes it takes to take good care of their loved one. Abortion Factory did none of that. His defense: that the son never should have started a riot with his ma in such trouble, is true enough, on paper, and his actions were above reproach, on paper. But the real paper part is the money this one thing will soak up: the lady’s son is now a felon with two broken arms (quite expensive), likely never to have job enough to contribute to our society, whom we tax payers will pay for, the rest of his days.

Taxpayers cannot be rid of someone solely for assholery, (or lack of judgement, which is far more common), despite the fact that people like this are Sorcerer’s Apprentices of shit-storms. Non-assholes work just as hard dispelling them as they do in conjuring (it actually makes for less work), and this guy conjured many others.

My system in the FDNY, the NYPD, and presumably the Minneapolis PD, are simply not equipped to counter assholery (evidence that it’s encouraged by police notwithstanding). Yes, with such potential to conjure storms, the current one a nationwide hurricane of civilization-threatening severity, they need to be dealt with.

Yes, responsibility and accountability cannot be separated. Yes, almost always, the evidence is they should have been terminated for any of many storms they created before the final one. There is such a thing as a pattern of behavior. But our over-lawyering interferes with our ability to cope with bad policing because of the immense legal trouble it takes. And the costs for the perverse outcomes can’t be served on the Lawyer-Union-Municipal-Mayor (personally) nexus that has the sole power to change things.

Storm conjurers learn their control systems backwards and forwards. They need to in order to survive. They learn what to do and say to stay employed. They learn how to juke their reports. That’s how Chauvin killed and killed and was still in a position to kill more: his juke worked until the evidence from the cell phone video beat his on-paper juke.

Here’s another aspect of the George Floyd murder I am qualified to speculate on: the FDNY tried to partner Abortion Factory with me, and we fought all day, every day. When we got to an irresolvable conflict, management backed down, losing their disciplinary zeal when the risks were theirs and not mine. Stir a turd into a gallon of ice cream, and the turd will be improved, but not the ice cream. By the way: Abortion Factory wanted nothing more than to be an asshole cop (he kept failing his psych profile).

Dealing with Abortion Factory means taking trouble for management, and no unionized (they get “paid” in less work), bureaucratic command system profits a career by making trouble. They advance by squashing trouble. This creates the paradox of bureaucratic success: the accumulation of power conjoins with the avoidance of responsibility (when was the last time you heard any politician say and actually mean “I take responsibility,” despite their ever-increasing power?).

Everyone working in these systems knows these rules, with the result that assholes will ultimately find that no good people will work with them. In the Board of Education, this is known as the dance of the lemons. Being unable to fix assholes, since it’s futile to refer them to management, what develops is that good people end up sticking together, but so do the assholes. Everyone has seen that dynamic, as Chauvin’s partner neutralized the only medical asset who might have saved the situation: an off-duty firefighter trying to warn them that they were committing a throttle-murder in slow motion. There is likely a reason those two were together.

As for the ‘blue wall of silence’: “Ain’t no point in talking when there is nobody listening.” A municipality that embraced police openness would be eaten alive by the lawyers (my theory on why widespread body cams makes so little difference; seeing what’s happening requires going through too strong a lawyer fortress). The history of cops dealing with their Chauvins is not encouraging.

Lastly, this is an explanation, not an excuse: Police officers really do depend on each other for their lives. An estranged partner might not see the suspect’s gun, or he might “freeze up” in running the radio when it’s time to ask for help. Asking cops to turn on one another is not a small (or simple) thing. Which is not to say it shouldn’t be insisted on, but it will be harder than anyone expects. In the FDNY, as in NYPD, I can say it is not rational to do any turning-against because of the craven culture of management. Cultural problems like this are structural problems, and while it’s proper that we prosecute the Chauvins, or at least eject them, actually correcting the problem requires a lot more.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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