George Floyd Trial: We Are All Jurors Now
In this age of Facebook and around-the-clock social media, we’ve been pummeled with video of every possible form of human misery: from tornadoes, to mass shootings, to COVID-19 victims dying alone with no family members allowed at their bedside. But never have we experienced such gut-wrenching video as we’ve seen so far in the George Floyd trial.
Count every second of the most compelling video. Five hundred and 69 seconds. Nine minutes and 29 seconds of a black man, George Floyd, lying on the ground, held down by three cops, while one of them, white police officer Derek Chauvin, keeps his knee planted on Floyd’s neck until he expires – as a handful of passers-by look on with horror and beg the officers to stop.
What’s different about this trial is that we’re not left out in the cold, dependent on reporters to tell us what happened in the courtroom. In response to the pandemic, every minute of the Floyd trial is on national television. Which means we’re not just in the courtroom. In effect, we’re actually in the jury box. We’re all jurors now. We get to hear and see all the evidence. We get to weigh the prosecution’s case and the defense attorneys’ rebuttal. We may not get to vote, but we get to make a decision. And what we’ve seen so far is pretty convincing.
We’ve seen police officers respond in greater numbers and use far greater force than could possibly be justified for such a minor offense. Does allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill really merit the death penalty?
We’ve heard a man with three police officers on top of him desperately moan and plead for his life. “I can’t breathe,” George Floyd says over and over. He calls for his mother: “Mama, they’re killing me.” In response, we hear Officer Derek Chauvin coldly tell bystanders: “If he can talk, he can breathe.” If you can watch that tape without being moved to tears, see your cardiologist. Your heart stopped working.
We’ve also heard from an extremely credible battery of opening witnesses: ordinary citizens, who just happened to be in front of the Cup Foods store for the most mundane of reasons: out for a walk, buying a snack, picking up an order of food. Every one of them saw what was happening, knew it was wrong, and tried to stop it. And every one of them - off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen, martial arts fighter Donald Williams, bystander Charles McMillan, store cashier Christopher Martin, and teenager Darnella Frazier, who took the original video – testified that they felt guilty they couldn’t do more to save Floyd’s life.
The only person who’s expressed no guilt for Floyd’s murder is the man who killed him. In fact, after Floyd’s body was removed from the scene, we heard a cold-hearted Office Chauvin calmly defend his actions to Mr. McMillan: “We had to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy. It looks like he’s probably on something.” Note the scary use of the word “control” as a euphemism for “kill.”
Finally, with echoes of Nuremberg, we heard the main argument Chauvin’s attorneys have offered in his defense: He was only doing his job. “You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” lead defense attorney Eric Nelson told the jury in his opening remarks. Which is an insult to every law enforcement officer in America. No, police officers are not trained to show no respect for human life, nor show no remorse for taking one.
For me, watching the action in the Minneapolis courtroom is a painful reminder of Los Angeles 1992 and the riots that erupted after four police officers were acquitted by a jury in the beating of Rodney King, also captured on video. Which, I fear, could happen again, on an even larger scale, if Chauvin’s found not guilty.
There’s so much riding on the final verdict in the George Floyd trial. Its outcome will show the world whether we’ve made any progress as a nation since 1992. Are there limits to the use of force? Are we willing to hold police officers accountable? Do Black lives really matter?
Ironically, the George Floyd trial, could someday be hailed as a tribute to our American system of justice: whereby even someone as clearly guilty as Derek Chauvin gets his day in court. As long as the jury gets it right. If not, I fear the consequences.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: email@example.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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