After the public murder of George Floyd, the Minneapolis police officer is tried
Second-degree murder: Guilty. Third-degree murder: Guilty. Second-degree manslaughter: Guilty. As the trial of streets once again fighting for justice over the murder of George Floyd. However, the reason for the trial was to prove that unnecessary deadly force had been used against Floyd, and the 12 jurors, who deliberated for just over 10 hours, acknowledged that with three charges, which he will receive sentencing for on June 16.
The death of George Floyd, on May 25, 2020, initiated protests around the country as the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck circulated the Internet. Upper school American government teacher Kiley McAbee said it’s important to realize what the trial was really about.
“It is not a trial about George Floyd and whether he’s guilty or innocent, but it’s a trial about officer Derek Chauvin and whether he committed this crime and to what degree,” McAbee said. “The state has been presenting its case against Chauvin, but also some states allow the prosecution to bring witnesses to attest to the humanity of the person so the jury can hear more about the person.”
Having witnesses attest to Floyd and his character certainly assisted in both the expedition and assessment of the veracity of the events. Two witnesses, Floyd’s sister as well as an acquaintance from Minnesota, took the stand to talk about Floyd as part of a unique Minnesota trial rule called the “spark of life” doctrine.
“It’s certainly clear that they’re going to use [the fact that there were trace amounts of drugs in Floyd’s system,] and show that the people who were filming and nearby were making the officers feel like they were fearful for their lives,” McAbee said. “ I don’t think those things have any pertinence to the case, and it’s especially interesting to hear multiple health professionals say that [drugs] had nothing to do with his death. He died from losing his breath or asphyxiation, and I think their case is pretty weak.”
The defense used examples of what a reasonable police officer would do. It stated that Chauvin acted reasonably and how the “situation is dynamic and fluid” and “can change second to second.” The defense lawyer also said that “the nine minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds” of time the police officers spent with Floyd before the situation escalated to murder.
“I think the trials have desensitized people to the murder of black people,” sophomore Cren Boyd said. “Last year I remember watching the murder of George Floyd and becoming traumatized that this is the way our county is allowed to treat black people.”
That video is what led to so much accountability within the police department and a public hearing. The power of video in Chauvin’s trial and how much it has changed the dynamics from past courtroom proceedings involving police was immense, especially as the conversation of departmental or national police reform is necessary.
“I don’t know if it will lead to any kind of general overhaul,” McAbee said. “It appears already that there have been, on a decentralized level, lots of precincts and cities who have either instituted immediate reforms, but in terms of on a national level, I don’t know.”
In early March, The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which bans choke-holds and would end qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity is a precedent that gives police officers broad protections against lawsuits. The bill will also create a national database of police misconduct and require federal law enforcement officials to use body and dash cameras.
“I think the American police department is a long way from change. However, I do think that the trials are opening up some people’s eyes to the severity of the injustices committed against black people,” Boyd said. “I think that they will help show that real change is needed if we want our country to be a civil and peaceful place.”
The conversation grew into one that has been ongoing since 2013 with Black Lives Matter and police brutality as a whole. With the flame of movement that came with this police encounter, it prompted public figures and other citizens to share their opinion and keep this conversation going to create real change.
“How many times has this occurred, how many videos can you possibly see? You would think that it’s obvious to the rest of the country that this has happened a lot,” McAbee said. “It seemed like they had never been paying attention and this kind of opened up a conversation that unfortunately seemed to not really be happening.”