Updated: Apr 30, 2021
By: Amber Wilkins
Hope is all there is. It is only with hope that the American criminal justice system will not fail humanity.
In 2020, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter after restraining George Floyd by grinding his knee into Floyd’s neck and applying pressure to the point of Floyd’s death. Chauvin was later charged with third-degree murder in early 2021. Since March 29, Chauvin has been on trial for his barbarity.
The prosecution team is led by Keith Wilson, the Attorney General of Minnesota, and includes assistant attorneys general Mathew Frank and Erin Eldridge, as well as outside lawyers, Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher. The defense attorney, who is representing Chauvin, is Eric Nelson.
In my opinion, Chauvin is undoubtedly a guilty man. After watching the infamous recording of George Floyd pleading for his life while suffocating from Chauvin’s weight, this is an easy conclusion to draw. Additionally, more information brought forward by the trial proves Chauvin’s eligibility for being convicted of all three charges. Yet, there is some uncertainty about whether Chauvin will actually be convicted, and it comes from one single factor—George Floyd was a Black man and Chauvin is a white man.
Immediately addressing one of the major questions about this case, it was clarified during weeks one and two that Chauvin was not trained to put his knee on an individual’s neck in order to restrain them. On Monday April 5, Vanessa Romo of NPR news reported that Inspector Katie Blackwell, previous overseer of the Minneapolis Police Training Department, testified that “Chauvin went against authorized training when he used his knee on George Floyd’s neck to pin him to the ground.” Romo mentioned that inspector Blackwell “told jurors that officers are trained about the dangers of keeping a person in a position that can limit the person’s ability to breathe,” which Floyd was visibly and unnecessarily in.
Chauvin’s former supervisor, Retired Sgt. David Ploeger of the Minneapolis Police Department, and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, both testified that Chauvin’s restraint “should have ended much sooner.” Additionally, on April 6, Minneapolis Department use-of-force Instructor, Lt. Johnny Mercil, testified that “Minneapolis police are taught to restrain combative suspects with a knee on their back or shoulders if necessary, but are told to ‘stay away from the neck when possible,’” said Amy Forliti, Steve Karnowski and Tammy Webber of the Associated Press. According to CBS contributor Erin Donaghue, after evaluating the video of Floyd’s killing, Mercil firmly concluded that Chauvin’s kneeling on Floyd’s neck was unauthorized.
Not only did Chauvin exceed the limits of his authority, but he did so inhumanely. As he pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, witnesses testified that Chauvin seemed not to care that Floyd was becoming increasingly unresponsive. First, Genevieve Hansen, a witness and a Minneapolis firefighter and EMT, told the officers about Floyd’s deteriorating state. She offered medical assistance, as she became increasingly concerned about Floyd’s condition, but the police refused to let her intervene. Furthermore, according to Hutchinson, Darnella Frazier, the now 18-year-old who recorded one of the most widely seen videos of the petrifying interaction between Chauvin and Floyd, stated that as the crowd called for Floyd to be freed, Chauvin had a “cold, heartless look” and claimed that “Chauvin did not care.” Donald Williams, a witness and mixed martial arts fighter, testified that Chauvin had Floyd in a position that would cut off blood flow to his brain.
According to Donaghue of CBS News, “in order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin unintentionally caused Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony—in this case third-degree assault.” Brad Parks, Aaron Cooper and Eric Levenson of CNN reported that in order for Chauvin to be charged with third-degree murder, prosecutors have to prove that Chauvin’s actions endangered Floyd and that Chauvin acted with disregard for human life. When looking at the fact that Chauvin ignored Floyd when he told him that he could not breathe, it is indisputable to me that Chauvin meets the criteria for being convicted of both murder charges and the manslaughter charge. Chauvin’s persistence of bearing down on Floyd after Floyd became fully unresponsive advances his guilt.
Nevertheless, after all revelations that illustrate Chauvin’s guilt, it would not be surprising if in the end Chauvin is not convicted. It is more than painful and shameful to say, but the lack of accountability for law enforcement’s maltreatment of Black people is nothing new to American society.
Eric Garner, a Black man who died from being in a chokehold by an NYPD police officer, received no justice, as the officer who murdered Garner was fired but never charged.
There’s been little to no justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot six times in her own apartment after police inaccurately associated her home with drug dealings. After she was shot, she received no medical assistance and thus died. No officers were charged for their recklessness.
Elijah McClain received no justice after being unlawfully detained for resembling a suspect that Aurora police officers were searching for at the time. McClain was met with threats, put into a position that disrupted the flow of blood to his brain, and was given a sedative dosage that was disproportionate to his body measurements. McClain died three days later, and the officers were never charged for their negligence of human life.
The common thread here is that nothing that these people did justified how they were treated—well of course nothing other than being Black.
Justice is present when there is accountability for one’s wrongdoings. Justice is recognizing that a life was cruelly and unnecessarily ended. Disturbingly, the list of Black victims of police brutality goes on and on. But justice does not go on and on.
Along with Derek Chauvin, America is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd. There is no pessimism. Only an acknowledgement of what has happened in the past and applying this acknowledgment to the present.
This awareness, however, does not mean that we, Black Americans, will surrender. This is what America is certainly wrong about. America continues to disregard our resolve, just as it continues to disregard Black lives.
As we await the trial verdict, all that is left is hope.
Author’s Note: This piece was written before the Chauvin trial verdict was announced. Now, I am both grateful and relieved to see that Chauvin was held accountable for his inhumane and racist behavior. His conviction on all three charges takes some of the weight off Black America’s shoulders. Yet, this is only one forward step towards the long road of equality, and the real question becomes: Why did it take this long to make this step? I will leave you, whoever is reading this, to reflect on this question.
We currently live with the painful truth that George Floyd is no longer physically here on earth. Giana, Floyd’s daughter, will grow up without her father. George Floyd’s brother, Philonus, will experience the world without his brother. All of this because Chauvin did not care about Floyd’s life.
However, George Floyd’s spirit lives on, and it leaves poignant memories that, hopefully, will guide America to a place where Black Americans are treated like they breathe the same air as White Americans. A place where preventable tragedies, such as that of George Floyd’s, Michael Brown’s, and Daunte Wright’s do not exist.
We can be guided to this place, but it is up to America on whether we stay there.