In an age when 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, it is often a single indelible photograph that tells you where we are, where we’ve been, and who we are.
The photograph that captures the here and now of the here and now is of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, slowly, calmly, choking the life out of George Floyd, a recently laid-off restaurant worker. It’s the blithe calmness of the execution that is so unsettling. Chauvin has his knee planted firmly on Floyd’s neck, placing a good part of his weight on it. Floyd is handcuffed, so not much of a threat to Chauvin. The police officer has his sunglasses perched on top of his head, the way people do at parks or in backyards. But it’s the way Chauvin’s left hand rests casually in his pants pocket that just did me in. The banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt so memorably described Adolf Eichmann’s indifferent manner at his 1961 trial for war crimes, was also on full display in Minneapolis that day in May.