The murder trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin has wrapped up its first week, 10 months after Chauvin and three other officers killed unarmed father-of-five George Floyd outside of a convenience store.
There is no bigger story in U.S. media. The trial, which is expected to last about four weeks, is being broadcast in its entirety. The entire world saw Chauvin commit the murder of Floyd thanks to viral bystander video, and the attention of millions are now fixed on the courtroom.
Chauvin is being charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He could be convicted by a jury on all, some, or none of these charges. It must be remembered, initially there were no charges at all. For four long days, none of the officers involved in the May 25, 2020, murder of Floyd had even been detained. It was only after an anti-racism rebellion erupted in the streets of Minneapolis and spread nationwide that state authorities found the motivation to arrest and charge Floyd’s killers.
During Monday’s opening statements, with hundreds rallying outside demanding justice, the prosecution made it clear they would use video as the core of its argument to convict Chauvin. It was revealed that Chauvin ground his knees into Floyd’s neck and back, squeezing the very breath out of him, for longer than the 8 minutes, 46 seconds reported in an earlier investigation. In total, Chauvin’s knees were pressed down into Floyd’s body for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
He kept a knee on Floyd’s neck 4 minutes and 44 seconds after he became unresponsive, not letting up even while paramedics checked and failed to find a pulse. Chauvin eventually took his knee off only to allow the deceased corpse of George Floyd to be loaded onto a gurney.
The prosecution has already introduced a mountain of previously unseen surveillance and police body-cam footage.
Killer cops’ lawyer bases defense on textbook racism
Chauvin’s defense attorney, on the other hand, argued in his opening statement that it was not in fact the crushing force used by Chauvin — as observed by the world — against the unarmed and handcuffed Floyd that killed him. According to Chauvin’s attorney, non-lethal force resulted in a lethal outcome because Floyd had high blood pressure and heart disease (two health conditions shared by half of all adults in the United States!) and had traces of opioids in his system.
The judge allowing information about Floyd’s addiction struggles to be admitted into court will allow the defense to try to redirect attention away from Chauvin’s deadly use of force. It will dip into the deep well of racist stereotypes about Black men and drug use, whereby Black men are so thoroughly demonized that any police abuse or denial of rights becomes justified.
This racist defense strategy which claims there was no asphyxiation is refuted most powerfully by the words of George Floyd himself. In the 4 minutes and 45 seconds before going unconscious and without a pulse, Floyd said 27 times that he could not breathe. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.”
During the opening days of the trial, the prosecution called multiple eyewitness bystanders to testify. One of them, Donald Wynn Williams II, a wrestler trained in mixed martial arts, testified that Chauvin used a “blood choke” on Floyd. The same observation was made by UFC Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones in a Tweet days after the murder: “Anyone who has practiced the very basics of jujitsu recognizes a #bloodchoke when they see this.”
A blood choke, as opposed to an air choke, cuts off circulation to the brain and causes loss of consciousness. After a few minutes, a person will suffer permanent brain damage or death. Floyd was held in this dangerous submission hold for 9 minutes and 29 seconds!
Several other bystanders took the stand expressing grief. They recalled feelings of horror as they watched George Floyd slowly die under the knee of police officer Chauvin.
The response prepared by Chauvin’s defense to these harrowing testimonies was to assert during cross examination that the pleading onlookers were “angry” and thus constituted a growing “threat.” This “threat” included three high school students, a 9-year-old girl, a 61-year-old man, an off-duty firefighter, and the teenage convenience store clerk who took Floyd’s $20 bill — and described Floyd as “very friendly, approachable, talkative.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson insinuated throughout cross examination that the “angry” crowd of onlookers, not Chauvin, was to blame for Floyd’s death because they distracted the police “from the care [author’s emphasis] of Mr. Floyd.”
Onlookers’ desperate pleas ignored
In reality, the police lynch mob tortured George Floyd to death, ignored onlookers’ desperate pleas to provide medical care, and prevented the only medically trained person on scene from helping: off-duty Minneapolis firefighter and certified EMT Genevieve Hansen.
Hansen became a bystander while out for a walk. She testified that while Floyd was alive there was no medical assistance and the officers repeatedly denied her access to provide lifesaving medical care. In court, Hansen listed all of the things she would have done: call 911, ask someone to look for a defibrillator from nearby businesses, check Floyd’s airway, look for obstructions, check his spinal cord because of the weight on him, check his pulse, and if necessary, begin chest compressions. None of this happened. Why? Police officers denied the assistance.
Unable to gain access to the scene, Hansen even offered to walk the officers through how to do chest compressions. The police refused that also.
Even though the entire world saw Chauvin commit murder against George Floyd, it is still up for grabs whether there will be a conviction. The U.S. ruling class routinely shields perpetrators of violence if they are police or other agents of the capitalist state. Since 2015, a recent study found that police killed 135 unarmed Black people nationwide. Only 13 officers were charged with murder, and only two were convicted.
In this case, the ruling class knows that without a conviction there may well be major rebellions across the country. For that reason, they may favor a conviction in this instance. However, they also know, just like we know, that it is very possible that the racist criminal justice system, skewed toward the cops, will produce another Rodney King-style acquittal.
In preparation for that possibility, the City of Minneapolis, state authorities, and certainly federal-level authorities are preparing massive repression against the people. The National Guard has already been deployed to Minneapolis and remains on high alert.