When the ‘cop’ title and ‘color’ label don’t matter

Candace Cooksey Fulton
Special to the Bulletin
Candace Cooksey Fulton

Candace Cooksey Fulton, now retired, is a former staff writer and columnist for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.

It’s been a week of deep breathing. Inhaling chest-filling gulps of good air and exhaling long, slow heart-cleansing and calming gusts of carbon dioxide. I caught myself doing those breathing tricks Monday during the prosecution’s closing arguments against Derek Chauvin.

 As much as I was emotionally able, I’d followed the case of George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street since it happened May 25, 2020. I finally accepted I simply couldn’t watch the video or hear Mr. Floyd’s pleas one more time. I will never, ever, unsee Chauvin, in uniform, knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, hands in his pockets and that smug look on his face. I can’t unhear his ugly taunts or his mean threats against those who suggested he should take his knee off Mr. Floyd’s neck.

I think I’m being honest here when I say from the get-go I didn’t take the time to qualify that Mr. Floyd was black, or Chauvin is white. All that registered at the time was the inhumanity being exhibited. In the months following, I would check myself that surely race was a factor and be grateful for the lessons I’d had through the years from good friends, who also happen to be black. Dozens of times our friendships have allowed them to make obvious points to graciously help me understand. Specific examples would take too long to explain, here, so for the moment, let’s apply a little Aretha Franklin: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

The thing that did register the first – and every time after – I saw and heard the video, was that Chauvin was a bad, bully cop. One bad, bully cop is too many, and the truth of the matter is law enforcement – like every other profession in the world – has too many bad bullies, which is not to say the good don’t far-and-away outnumber the bad. I believe and respect that all day, every day.

I am the daughter of a one-time legendary law enforcement officer. Growing up it was completely natural to be in a room of men wearing guns and badges. There was no question of respect, or that they were the good guys. They may have chosen the profession for any number of reasons, but bottom line, they took seriously their oaths to protect and serve. However, as adults, my siblings and I have often discussed meeting cops (a word our father preferred we not use, because he thought it was disrespectful), who, connecting our Cooksey name to our father, would tell us our dad was their hero.

Usually they’d been a student in one of the law enforcement academies Dad taught. And sorry, but we could tell by their demeanor, the kind of thing they were going to say. Something like, “Bill Cooksey was my hero. Because of him, I keep ol’ Betsy right here and I ain’t afraid to use her.” Knowing that, it didn’t make a bit of sense to argue they had no idea of what Bill Cooksey was about or who he was.

And that brings me back to the big exhale.

In the prosecution’s closing remarks, Steve Scheicher told the jury, “This is not an anti-police prosecution. It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

“Yes,” I thought. “Yes, yes, yes.”

How many times since May have I wandered into unfriendly friend discussions where Mr. Floyd was labeled a thug, a felon, which somehow made it all right for someone in a uniform to murder him on a hot pavement in broad daylight? One discussion happened with a friend of a friend just hours after the three guilty verdicts were announced. She said, “If George Floyd would have just cooperated, he’d be alive.” How about if Derek Chauvin had cooperated, followed his oath to protect and serve, let go of his ego, and unchecked his racist behavior, George Floyd would be alive?

Chauvin is a man, a formerly bad cop, who didn’t deserve to wear the badge he hid behind. We’ve not seen a bit of remorse from him. I can’t detect that he’s anything but proud – still – of the murder he committed. I think he deserves severe punishment, but I’m pretty much done with my self-appointed job of judge and jury.

In resting my case, I will also note, that while George Floyd did not deserve the cruel murder he suffered, that he did suffer such an injustice does not make him a martyr. It makes him a man, a son, a brother, a father, and a victim of someone who should have never stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a legion of men and women serving in the noble profession of law enforcement.