Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers representing the family of George Floyd, told Breitbart News on Sunday that the arrest of the four police officers involved in Floyd’s death only came about as a result of “chaos” nationwide.
Merritt appeared on Breitbart News Sunday with Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak, who debated Merritt’s claim.
Floyd, 46, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Memorial Day, setting off nationwide protests and riots and reinvigorating the Black Lives Matter movement.
After Merritt described the arrest of former officer Derek Chauvin, saying it had happened “after a lot of civil unrest and protest around the country,” Pollak asked: “Are you saying that the arrest wouldn’t have happened if not for those protests?”
Merritt said that the arrests would not have happened but for the protests, based on his experience as a civil rights attorney.
Pollak countered: “To hear you say that the arrest wouldn’t have happened without the unrest is very difficult, because I live in a community that has been devastated by that unrest.”
Pollak referred to the riots and looting in Santa Monica, California, alongside a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31:
I certainly accept that many of the people involved in the protest intended to demonstrate peacefully, but the absolute devastation, the smashing of stores, the theft, the violence, smoke bombs being thrown, graffiti all over the library and other public buildings, city hall, the destruction of minority-owned businesses — there was a music store owned by Cuban-Americans that was destroyed, the place my kids go for math tutoring and reading, which is a minority-owned business, also vandalized — how do you deal with that? Because I would hope that the arrest would have happened anyway. To me, to hear that justice required so much devastation and injustice in my community is something I find hard to accept.
Merritt replied that it was “a hard reality to accept,” not just for the community, but for the family of George Floyd, that the “chaos” had been necessary for the justice system to treat Floyd like any other American:
To think that is what is required in order for an arrest to be made in this case — it seems absurd. This is not something that the family is in support of — that in order to get the legal apparatus to move towards justice, to feel like this was urgent — his life wasn’t valuable enough for them to say, “You know what? We actually need to do something about it. But when buildings started to burn, and when other citizens whom they did deem as important began to be inconvenienced — at that point, the legal apparatus, all the way up top to the attorney general’s office, who generally won’t intervene in these matters, say, “All right, I guess I have to use my legal authority to step in in order to bring about a just result for this family — and obviously, we’re not there yet, so we don’t know what the result will be — But in order for George Floyd to be treated like an ordinary American citizen, society had to erupt in utter chaos.
Pollak acknowledged that the Floyd family had condemned the violence, and played a clip of Floyd’s brother, Terrence, condemning the violence.
But he pushed back on the idea that the “chaos” had been necessary, noting that President Donald Trump had asked the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to expedite their investigation on May 28, before the looting and riots began.
“It looked like the wheels of justice were in motion before all the destruction took place,” Pollak said.
Merritt responded by referring to his own childhood growing up in South Central Los Angeles during the riots of 1992.
When I say it was necessary for justice, I’m saying that that is a tragedy, that it should not be necessary for justice. But also, I hear what you’re saying, which is — maybe it wasn’t. Maybe without all the protests or riots — and I don’t want to pretend that those two terms are synonymous, and you certainly have not … I agree that in this case, there were already some wills being set in place to ensure justice, or to move us closer to justice … but what you have to realize, for example, looting in Santa Monica has very little to do with George Floyd.
He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying that riots are the “voice of the unheard” (though King said in the same speech that he did not support riots).
Pollak also asked Merritt whether the problem in police departments was necessarily a problem of racism, given that another member of the Minneapolis police had shot and killed a white woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in 2017, after she had called 911 to report a possible assault near her home.
“No, it is not a problem of racial bias … Police brutality is an issue of policing culture in America,” Merritt said.
He said that he supported calls to defund the police, including in Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti announced cuts of $150 million to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) last week.
“We have too many police in our communities,” he said, saying there were better ways to deal with crimes that appear in black communities.
Merritt also represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man who was shot and killed as he ran through a neighborhood in Georgia. Three white men have been arrested and charged with murder in that killing. Evidence has emerged that one of the men involved in the killing used a racial epithet after he shot Artery.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.