By Norma Adams-Wade
Minnesota police officer J. Alexander “Alex” Kueng is caught in an unimagined racial bind. Kueng (pronounced “King”) is one of the less-known, four cops accused in the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd – a handcuffed, unarmed Black man whose death in a Minnesota neighborhood is now sadly legendary. Rookie officer Kueng, 26, is in a bind because he himself is half-Black. National media reports that his mother is White. His father is Nigerian. Kueng has four adopted, African-American siblings. Some national media also have reported that a few of Kueng’s relatives say that ironically, he became a police officer because he wanted to help protect Black people from abusive officers – having seen such behavior as a younger male. Reports say he thought he could best accomplish the change from inside a police force. In a baffling twist of fate, his goal apparently did not work out as planned.
In June 27, 2020’s New York Times piece, reporter Kim Barker quoted Kueng’s mother quoting her son: “He said, ‘Don’t you think that that (change) needs to be done from the inside?’” The mother is quoted as saying. The piece said Kueng and his family even volunteered at a Haiti orphanage after the devastating 2010 earthquake. And it said that one of Kueng’s siblings is a devoted Black Lives Matter supporter. So, what happened? Floyd’s death has been described repeatedly as one of the most heartless killings captured on video by a witness and put on social media for all the world to see. Some observers could even construe the Kueng-Floyd clash as Black-on-Black crime. Yet, what observers make of the situation is unpredictable. I was just thinking…sociologists say cultures manage best when they learn to live together. But in the Floyd killing, cultures converged for an unfathomable tragedy. The victim and officers were a mixture of misfortune.
Kueng is in a bind because he was the youngest and newest officer in the squad, having gone out on only three previous assignments. Of the other three officers, one is Asian (Tou Thao, 34) and two are White (Thomas Lane, 37, and Derek Chauvin, 44). Chauvin, of course, set the tone for the racial carnage. He was older and had a 19-year career wearing the blue uniform. The details are history-book copy by now: The infamous Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, mashed to the ground, for eight minutes, 46 seconds. Before Floyd died, he repeated many times, “I can’t breathe!” Police records say Kueng restrained Floyd’s back. Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Officer Thao stood watch to halt interference from onlookers. During the killing, the officers seemed not to object. Defense attorneys claim, though, that Kueng said to fellow officers, “You shouldn’t do that;” and that Lane said, “Shall we roll him ever?” Police reports say Chauvin told them to remain as they were.
Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder. The other three officers with aiding abetting. The three lower-rank officers deferred to Chauvin, although, surely, they must have sensed his derangement. The longstanding brotherhood of silence and rank intimidation won out. In still another strange twist, reporter Barker’s New York Times exposé states that Chauvin had been Kueng’s field training officer after Kueng graduated from the Police Academy in December 2019 – maybe explaining more reason why Kueng kept silent. He who reportedly wanted to change the system from within got swept into the system instead. Twist of fate? Perplexing racial conundrum? Hopefully, a fair jury will reach a just conclusion.