Police Killed Ashli Babbitt Too
George Floyd and Ashli Babbitt: a tale of two police murders and two very different media treatments.
Here’s a tale of two cops and two murders: Derek Chauvin and George Floyd, and John Doe and Ashli Babbitt. Two cops, two unarmed citizens killed. One you care about, one you don’t. Even murder is politicized these days.
No one needs much of a recap on Chauvin and Floyd. George Floyd, a black man, tried to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill while messed up on drugs. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and other cops responded, and in the process of restraining Floyd, killed him. Everyone has seen the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and, as if it was a requirement, been coaxed to judge for themselves whether it was appropriate, necessary, and the cause of Floyd’s death.
A jury judged those things, too, and the result was a 22.5 year sentence for Chauvin (in handing down the sentence the judge said it was justified in part because Chauvin “committed his crime in the presence of children,” who of course had gathered to help jeer at the cops.) The woman who shot the snuff video got a special citation from the Pulitzer prize board.
Floyd’s death set off an angry summer of violence under the rubric Black Lives Matter, as progressives shut down opposing voices and several downtowns to insist Chauvin’s actions were part of systemic racism reaching back to 1619 in unbroken lineage. Celebrities, politicians, and academics jostled each other for camera time to demand the police be defunded. You might have seen something about all this on the teevee?
There’s also video of white Ashli Babbitt being killed by a black law enforcement officer, but it has been played by the mainstream media maybe 1/10,000th as often as the Floyd murder clip. Babbitt, wearing a Trump flag like a cape, was one of the rioters who smashed the glass on the door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol. A plain clothes Capitol Police officer, apparently without warning, fired a shot and Babbitt fell into the crowd and died. It was the only shot fired in the riot. A SWAT team just behind Babbitt saw the situation differently and never fired on her or those with her.
Like Floyd, Babbitt was unarmed. Like Floyd, Babbitt was committing a crime when she was killed by a cop. Unlike Floyd, there is no question of whether she was resisting arrest because the cop never got that far. He just shot her.
In the Floyd case, we know everything about Derek Chauvin, and saw him convicted in open court. Not so with Babbitt’s killer. Almost all police departments nationwide are required to release an officer’s name after a fatal shooting. Not the U.S. Capitol Police, which answers only to Congress. Even as Congress demands nationwide police reforms (ironically, the new, lower standards of proof proposed by H.R.1280—George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021—would condemn the Capitol cop) they have steadfastly refused to release the name of Babbitt’s killer.
In February, the Capitol Police stated they would “share additional information once an investigation is complete.” Investigators closed the case in April, cleared the still unnamed officer of wrongdoing in Babbitt’s death without addressing the fact that the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and left it at that. Stuff happens.
No trial, no public accounting, not even a name for the Babbitt family to use in filing a wrongful death suit. Because Congress exempts the Capitol Police from the Freedom of Information Act, the family is forced to sue “for documents that identify the officer who shot Babbitt… as well as notes and summaries of what the officer said regarding the shooting and the reasons he discharged his weapon.”
They’d like more information on Babbitt’s death than the “investigation” provided. The Department of Justice simply wrote there was “insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.” DOJ did not even bother to hide its legal fudge, which had its investigators look narrowly at a Constitutional question, not a homicide.
Without shame, DOJ said it focused on 18 U.S.C. § 242, a federal criminal civil rights statute. This requires prosecutors prove the officer acted willfully to deprive Babbitt of her rights, here the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure. Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used constitutionally unreasonable force, but the officer did so “willfully” with the intent to deprive Babbitt of her Fourth Amendment rights. That meant evidence the officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required. In lay terms, that’s called a set-up en route to a cover-up.
Contrast that with the Chauvin prosecution, where prosecutors laid out a spread of charges—manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder—all in the one death of George Floyd, leaving the civil rights question that saved the Capitol cop as a separate matter. That allowed prosecutors to instruct the jury (there of course was no jury in Babbitt’s case) to decide on emotion, saying “Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.” Imagine a jury in Babbitt’s case, over-exposed to a perpetually playing video of her killing, acting on the same instructions. But that never happened.
No one had much to say during the Babbitt investigation. In Floyd’s case, Joe Biden said he was praying the jury would reach the “right verdict,” calling the evidence “overwhelming in my view.” Maxine Waters demanded protesters become “more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted. That was so blatantly inflammatory it was almost grounds for a mistrial, never mind an impeachment had she held higher office
The president cheers on one prosecution, remaining silent while another murder is made to go away. Cities erect monuments to George Floyd as a martyr while the New York Times runs gossipy articles on Babbitt’s marriage problems. Asking for justice in Floyd’s case is a duty, even if it means burning down stores. Those who want the same justice for Babbitt are mocked as QAnon cultists. Did she not also bleed?
Oh, there’s more. Floyd was only on drugs passing fake money because of racism whereas Babbitt was a seditionist, a vandal, who was asking for it. Floyd’s death created a movement for change. Trump’s embrace of Ashli Babbitt anointed “January 6 a heroic uprising” for white supremacists seeking to overthrow democracy.
Absolutely no one would write of Floyd, as one mainstream media outlet did of Babbitt: “her death, while tragic, occurred for a very good reason. The Air Force veteran, who had been fully converted into the most dangerous and fantastical pro-Trump conspiracy theories, had joined the aggressive vanguard of the January 6 insurrection.” Babbitt deserved it. The article went on to compare Babbitt’s status as martyr to “Horst Wessel, a German storm trooper killed by communists in 1930, who inspired the eponymous Nazi anthem.”
Others claim Donald Trump is liable for the death, that the answer to Who Killed Ashli Babbitt? is… Trump. The Washington Postwrote, “The death of Ashli Babbitt offers the purest distillation of Donald Trump’s view of justice,” which apparently means to them Trump supported George Floyd’s killing while mourning Babbitt’s. Daily Beast fretted, “If the base believes they are being prosecuted and even ‘assassinated’ [like Babbitt] they will justify anything to reject Democratic [sic] rule and future elections that deprive them of power.”
Sears and Kmart pulled from sale T-shirts reading “Ashli Babbitt American Patriot” after an outcry on social media. Headlines read “Marjorie Taylor Greene provokes outrage by comparing Ashli Babbitt’s death to George Floyd’s” because Babbitt was okay to shoot “while actively participating in a violent riot” and Floyd was murdered by racists.
It is difficult in the face of so much hypocrisy to find the air to comment on the state of our country. Some murders are more equal than others. Dead bodies only matter when they can be used for your side’s political purposes. Why are some cops murderers and others protected with anonymity and a free-pass investigation?
The absolute craven transparency of the progressive argument is what gives hope. Hope that at some point enough Americans will set aside their blind Trump rage, look past the 24/7 propaganda directed at them, and come to realize even murder now only matters for the partisan clicks it generates. Our media is happy to justify Babbitt’s death, seeing it almost in biblical terms, divine retribution for supporting Trump. Floyd? Was always just a victim of an unjust society.
Ashli Babbitt was put down for political sins, and her killer escaped justice with the government’s help. Now ain’t that the Democratic vision of America?
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.