Trusting What Your Eyes and Ears Tell You

From George Floyd to betrayal in Helsinki, we know what we saw and heard

Note: The intro of today’s post includes graphic details involving George Floyd’s murder.

I didn’t say this flippantly. I watched the video. I watched many videos from different angles, some of them assembled to see and hear what was happening from multiple perspectives simultaneously. We know, as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, a handcuffed Floyd cried out at least 16 times in less than five minutes that he can’t breathe. We know Chauvin continued to grind his knee into his neck for four minutes and 44 seconds after Floyd was unresponsive. We know he was soon pronounced dead.

New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries told Ari Melber on MSNBC that this act was “a cold-blooded murder.” I agree with Rep. Jeffries. I watched the video as George Floyd cried out for his dead mother and pleaded for his life. I saw him go silent, unconscious, while police officers ignored bystanders pleading to check his pulse. I saw the footage of his slack body put on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance.

This is now the fifth day of the Chauvin murder trial. Witnesses have testified. Prosecutors have made their case. Defense attorneys have sought to distract from the central actions, including questioning whether Black witnesses should be distrusted because they are angry and therefore unreliable (as if anyone who witnessed that horror wouldn’t be angry). TV pundits and crime reporters have studied the evidence, some questioning George Floyd’s motivations and his physical and mental state, including his drug use. You can find plenty of accounts and analyses if you haven’t already dissected that heinous day of May 25, 2020.

George Floyd’s horrific end is a story of racial injustice, of a history of racial injustice, of police brutality, of human cruelty committed by men charged to serve and protect, of cold-blooded murder. These are topics we need to address again and again.

But I want to linger now on the issue of trusting what we see and hear. Honestly, I have a thing about trusting our eyes and ears.

The last four years taught me the word gaslighting. They showed me over and over that there are terrible, criminal, no-good people who will do everything they can to convince you not to believe what you see and hear—to ignore what they are doing.

These corrupt people sought to use their positions of power to degrade our capacity to know what’s true and what isn’t. Many relied on a sociopath who had no interest in the truth, a pathological liar who would say or do anything that would serve his interests. They learned from him. They let themselves become no better than him.

But those of us who trust our eyes and ears can avoid becoming like them. We can tell the difference between right and wrong. We can refuse to be distracted. We can avoid chasing shiny objects. We can fight not to be drawn into conspiracy thinking and disinformation that motivates you to ignore what you see and hear.

As we know, millions of Americans failed to do so, ignoring George Orwell’s oft-repeated warning in 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Perhaps no clearer examples of Donald Trump’s efforts to degrade our capacity to know the truth and ignore what we could see was the 2017 visit of Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak to the Oval Office, and Trump’s 2018 betrayal of America in Helsinki. While we heard over and over that his Russian involvement was a hoax—while never hearing a single word of criticism for Vladimir Putin—we saw Trump yukking it up with the Russians in his office. We only saw this because the Russians released a photograph; Trump denied the US press access to witness it.

This picture doesn’t confirm what was said, although we later learned that Trump passed classified intelligence to these Russians. Likewise, Trump’s posture and look of defeat does not make certain what he said or did, or what a pleased-looking Putin said and did, in their private Helsinki meeting before they headed to a televised press conference.

To make sure we would not know, he made sure the interpreter’s notes were torn up. But here again, we can and should trust our eyes and ears, especially when Trump sided with Putin over US intelligence agencies concerning Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

One day soon I hope we will learn what happened in that private Helsinki meeting. I hope we will finally, fully understand why this man chose to forsake our country to serve the interests of a foreign adversary.

And one day soon, I hope Derek Chauvin will be convicted for the crime we can see with our own eyes and ears.