What Would MLK Think of the Imprisonment of Thomas Lane?
The reader cannot be faulted for asking, “Who is Thomas Lane?” For the record, Lane, who is white, is the most anonymous of the four lambs sacrificed to appease the bloodlust of the mobs incited by a video snippet of George Floyd’s last minutes on earth.
On a day like today, it would seem a fitting time to heed the words of another man who was unfairly imprisoned. In his justly famed letter from the Birmingham jail, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In recent memory, I would argue, no man has suffered more flagrant injustice than Lane.
The former Minneapolis police officer was already serving a 2-1/2-year sentence on federal charges for allegedly violating Floyd’s civil rights, when he was sentenced in September to three years on state charges for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In their great mercy, Judge Peter Cahill and the prosecutors will allow him to serve that penalty at the same time as his federal sentence.
In watching Sean Hibbeler and Maryam Henein’s powerful new documentary about the death of George Floyd, The Real Timeline, I found myself drawn to Lane’s case even above that of his three colleagues, none of whom belongs in prison.
On just his fourth day on the Minneapolis PD, Lane and his partner Alexander Kueng responded to a call about a counterfeit bill being passed at a shady Minneapolis convenience store called Cup Foods. For Keung, whose father is African, this was only his third day on the job.
It seems a little perverse that two novices would be assigned to the same vehicle, but that variable is irrelevant. Both men did their jobs by the book. We know this because Henein, who wrote, directed, and narrated the film, did excellent work piecing the timeline together from a wide variety of footage most people have never seen.
At 8:08 p.m. on the evening of May 25, 2020, Lane and Kueng arrived at the scene. As the film shows, Floyd left the store about 20 minutes earlier and settled into the driver’s seat of a borrowed Mercedes SUV. Sitting in the vehicle with Floyd were friends Morries Hall and Shawanda Hill. All three were convicted felons. Despite the fact that the store clerks had twice come out to the car and demanded Floyd return to the store, he did not drive away. Hall would tell police that Floyd took a couple of Percocets and fell asleep.
The two officers approached the vehicle from the driver’s side. Now awake, Floyd appeared to swallow something as they approached and started flailing about. Lane pulled his weapon and demanded that Floyd show his hands. Acting crazy, Floyd started crying, “Please don’t shoot.”
At this point in the film, Henein cut to the bodycam footage from a previous incident a year earlier in which in which Floyd’s vehicle was stopped by the police. This time too, he swallowed drugs in their presence, acted crazy, and begged the police not to shoot him. A frustrated officer shouted at Floyd, “Keep your hands where I can f***ing see them.” When he continued flailing about, the second officer threatened to tase him. Henein suggested that the crazy “shtick” was Floyd’s M.O.
Floyd acted just as crazy back at Cup Food. Shawanda yelled at Floyd, “Stop resisting.” The officers said the same. Finally, he calmed down enough that the officers were able to holster their guns and get the huge, muscular Floyd in handcuffs.
When Lane and Keung began to escort him across the street to their vehicle, Floyd did not go easily. Getting him to sit in the vehicle was well nigh impossible. Floyd not only resisted physically, but he also grew hysterical, claiming over and over that he was claustrophobic. “When I stop breathing,” he said at one point. “It’s gonna go off on me.” This odd premonition started a litany of him saying, “I can’t breathe,” although he obviously could.
At 8:16 officers Derek Chauvin and Tuo Thao arrived at the scene, but even with two more officers helping, Lane and Keung were unable to secure Floyd in the back seat. At 6’ 6” he did not fit easily. Throughout this struggle, Lane was the most considerate. He offered to stay with the panicking Floyd, to roll down the windows, to turn on the air conditioning.
“I want to lay on the ground,” said Floyd. The exasperated officers obliged him, but Floyd continue to struggle. He was a danger to himself and to the officers. As senior cop on the scene, Chauvin took over. He used a restraint that was featured in the Minneapolis PD training manual, but that Judge Cahill disallowed at trial, saying that Chauvin had not been officially trained on it. For the record, the Chauvin trial was a sham.
A week or two before this incident, I had seen a Kansas City police officer use an identical maneuver to restrain a large white woman who screamed like a banshee for ten minutes before backup arrived to relieve the arresting officer. I chose not to record the incident, I wish I had.
For about six minutes of the notorious “8 minutes and 46 seconds” that Floyd was restrained, he continued to bitch: “I ate too many drugs,” “My stomach hurts,” “I can’t breathe.” Toward the end of this stretch it was Lane who suggested to Chauvin that they roll Floyd over on his side. “I think he’s passing out,” said Lane.
It was the judgment of Chauvin that Floyd was better off as he was. By this time, the bystanders, who had no idea of what had been going on, grew increasing shrill. One even pushed Officer Thao. By no “reasonable officer” standard would a four-day veteran try to overrule a 20-year vet in such a harrowing circumstance.
When the EMTs arrived, they seemed oddly nonplussed about Floyd. They pick up people passed out on the street every day. I am sure they suspected drugs, but no one knew that Floyd had major blockages in both arteries. As it happens, it was Lane who got in the vehicle and initiated CPR.
So why exactly is Lane in prison now? And why is no one coming to his defense?
To learn more, see www.cashill.com