When being a cop becomes being a knee.
When being a cop becomes being a knee. MattGush/gettyimages.com

This is one moment from the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Seattle that received national attention: A Seattle Police Department officer forces his knee on the head of one suspect who is being handcuffed, and then, a moment later, he forces his knee directly on the neck of a second suspect. Horrified bystanders repeatedly yell at the officer to remove his knee from the young man's neck, according to Crosscut reporter Matt McKnight's video of the incident.

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The officer's partner suddenly stops handcuffing the suspect, thinks, realizes what's happening, recognizes another George Floyd in the making, lifts his partner's knee from the suspect's neck, and, once suspended, the knee turns and falls on the suspect's back.

The insight we can extract from this moment of danger is how an act of force can completely consume an officer.

The cop isn't just using force, the cop is becoming nothing but this force. The subject of the subject/action couplet sinks like a rock into the one action: handcuffing, body-slamming, knee-pressing.

Again, let's closely examine each part of the moment that occurred on Saturday, May 30, in front of the downtown T-Mobile store.

There are two cops on the suspect, a young white man. One cop is placing cuffs on the suspect's wrists. Before the calls of the bystanders finally crack the spell of the one action he has become (cuffing wrists), the cop looks up at the screaming bystanders in a state of confusion. He appears to have no idea where he is (Seattle? Downtown? 6th Avenue?) or what he is doing here (arresting a young alleged looter?). For a split second, we see the confusion in the cop's face morph into the aspect of a man awakening from a dream. And it takes another split second for the light of his resurfaced subjectivity to switch on and act on the knee that could be blocking a human windpipe.

Because the cop's partner is all knee, lifting it is not easy. The thing is as heavy as a huge rock. And it's the cop's effort (not the cries of the horrified) that pulls his partner out of the depths of his knee and restores his sense of self in a part of the head that we call the idea of the mind's body. The cop takes control of his knee away from his awakened partner (who resumes handcuffing), and places it with much less force on a lower part of the suspect's back. Who knows how badly this arrest would have ended if both cops were never retrieved from their all-consuming actions.

Lastly, it's often almost impossible to pull a white cop from an act of force if race is involved. In those cases, it's not only the personality of the cop that's consumed by the action, but the entire history of American slavery. This is Derek Chauvin's knee. 400 years pressed into the last nine minutes of George Floyd's life.