Derek Chauvin trial final arguments and possible jury deliberations scheduled to begin this week in the murder of George Floyd. The 12-member panel – and all of America for that matter – is being asked a straightforward question upon which to render a verdict: Who are you going to believe? The videotaped evidence, or your lying eyes?
By Whitney Gresham
Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 — for which prosecutors have charged Chauvin with second-and third-degree murder and manslaughter — set off nation and worldwide protest against police brutality, racism, the over-policing of the Black community, implicit bias, structural racism, and an unjust criminal justice system in America.
All these elements seemed to manifest themselves in the defense strategy executed by Chauvin’s lawyers last week, where it appeared from their rhetoric George Floyd, the dead victim, was on trial and not Derek Chauvin, the killer cop. He has a history of at least 16 other civilian complaints against him before the Floyd murder.
Making their strategy all the more surreal was that Floyd’s arrest and actual death was not only videotaped in all its inhumanity but witnessed by more than a dozen people, several of who gave graphic eyewitness accounts of the killing for the prosecution.
Given this reality, the defense effort last week to portray his cause of death as caused by anything other reason than the nearly ten minutes Chauvin spent with his knee choking the life out of a man accused of passing a fake $20 bill; a misdemeanor, felt not only like gaslighting, but character assassination and pandering to some of the worst tropes about Black men.
Knowing they had a bad case, the defense tried mightily to convince the jury of three Black men, one Black woman, and two women who identified themselves as multiracial, along with two white men and four white women, that everything they have seen and heard over the two weeks was an illusion.
This includes expert analysis from medical professionals and even the indignant testimony from ranking officers within Chauvin’s former police department, who stated unequivocally that Floyd died not only from Chauvin’s knee on his neck, but the very act itself violated departmental arrest protocols.
Still, defense attorney Eric Nelson repeatedly suggested to the jury the cause of death was due to the illicit drugs and other substances found in Floyd’s system. And that Chauvin had little choice but to use that technique because Floyds was so big. And if neither of those excuses passed the smell test, Nelson went as far as to suggest another possibility; that Floyd may have died from inhaling carbon dioxide emitted from the patrol car where he laid prostrate and handcuffed near the exhaust pipe of the running vehicle.
The prosecution must prove its case to the nine jurors, ultimately deciding the case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The defense has a much lower threshold of merely instilling doubt in one of the jurors.
Given the toxic racial climate we live in and the gnawing sense among so many Black Americans that white people cannot be trusted to act honestly or rationally when deciding the fate of a Black man – dead or alive – when the person accused of causing his death is a white police officer, the case is no slam dunk: videotape, expert testimony, and the scorn and denouncement by the accused officer’s department superiors notwithstanding.
This case has already been called the “trial of the century,” and for a good reason. It is a lurid reminder to the rest of the nation and world that even though Black Americans are living in an ostensibly free country, their lives are so profoundly undervalued and bodies, movements, and behaviors patrolled by what is essentially a racist, violent, occupying force that they can take nothing for granted when it comes to their fate and the criminal justice system.