Photo: Tributes to George Floyd at the location of his murder. Photo: Vasanth Rajkumar
Closing arguments have wrapped up in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd. The world is now anxiously awaiting a verdict as the jury begins its deliberations. And police forces and National Guard units across the country are preparing to unleash vicious repression if a not-guilty verdict is rightfully met with a new wave of rebellions.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher urged jurors to convict, saying, “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes.” The prosecution reviewed the overwhelming evidence it assembled of Chauvin’s guilt. Chauvin’s lawyer went on an hours-long tirade rehashing every racist stereotype they dug up against George Floyd over the course of the proceedings in the hope that he can convince at least one intransigent juror to block a conviction.
During the previous week of the trial, state prosecutors rested their case. In the same week, after a scanty two-day attempt to cobble together a defense, Chauvin’s side also rested. The jury is now sequestered while it deliberates on three separate charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
To prove the obvious — Chauvin used “excessive and unreasonable” force when he drove his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, and this force caused Floyd’s lungs and heart to stop working, resulting in death — state prosecutors called 38 witnesses over 11 days, presented alongside mountains of video evidence.
Chauvin’s defense, on the other hand, pulled together a thin lineup of seven witnesses to testify over two short days.
At the heart of the defense strategy to get Chauvin off the hook have been two things: 1) to suggest that something, anything other than Chauvin’s actions, killed Floyd, and 2) that Chauvin’s use-of-force was in accordance with department policy.
To accomplish the goal of attributing Floyd’s death to something other than Chauvin’s actions, the defense carted out Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s disgraced former chief medical examiner. Dr. Fowler resigned his post in 2019 under swirling accusations that he helped create false narratives to cover up police responsibility in the deaths of Black people.
In 2018, 19-year-old Anton Black was wrestled to the ground in Greensboro, Maryland, by three white officers. While handcuffed, all three officers got on top of the Black teenager and crushed him under their full weight for six minutes. Similar to George Floyd, Anton Black struggled to breathe, lost consciousness, then died.
Fowler ruled Anton’s death an accident. Accordingly, none of the officers was ever charged.
In 2015, Fowler’s office ruled the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray at the hands of six Baltimore police officers a homicide. However, Fowler’s homicide ruling was based on officers’ failure to follow safety protocols while transporting Gray in a van, and not the video recorded by arresting officers showing them breaking Gray’s spinal cord before stuffing him into the van. Fowler’s misleading assessment allowed defense attorneys to frame the death once again as an accident, and all six officers were cleared.
Now on the stand as an “expert witness” for Chauvin’s defense, Fowler, reborn as a private consultant, testified he would have ruled George Floyd’s cause of death “undetermined” and not a homicide. Fowler ticked off a list of things that “combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death.” On the list: heart disease, drug use and, astonishingly, carbon emissions from the police car that Floyd was pinned next to! Not on the list: officer Derek Chauvin’s knee.
After testifying that police car exhaust was a “significant” factor in Floyd’s death, he later admitted under cross examination that he did not know for certain if the Minneapolis Police squad car was running.
The only other “expert witness” called on by Chauvin’s defense was Barry Vance Brodd. A former Santa Rosa, California, police officer turned private consultant, Brodd was brought in to testify Chauvin’s actions “were objectively reasonable” and not excessive.
In a 2018 trial, Brodd testified that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke’s actions were reasonable and not excessive when he fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times as the teenager walked away from police. Nine of the shots were in the back, and the shooting continued as McDonald lay on the ground.
As a kindred spirit of Chauvin, Brodd described George Floyd’s attempts to breathe while being restrained as non-compliance. “A compliant person would have both hands in the small of their back and just be resting comfortably versus still moving around,” Brodd said, referring to movement associated with Floyd’s desperate attempts to breathe and save his own life.
Brodd went on to state that, “I don’t consider a prone control as a use of force,” thus justifying the knee on the neck even after Floyd went lifeless. When asked by prosecutors if he recalled Floyd saying that his neck hurt, former police officer Brodd chillingly replied, “I heard it. I did not necessarily note it.”
On April 15, Chauvin spoke. He told the court he would not testify, bringing the defense’s grotesque case to a close. Shortly afterward, the judge told the jury to prepare to begin deliberations on Monday.
If there is an acquittal there will likely be another determined rebellion — and the ruling class knows it. For this reason, state prosecutors have been working throughout the trial with the Minneapolis police department to secure some kind of guilty verdict against Chauvin. This was made apparent when several officers, including the police chief, testified for the prosecution against Chauvin. Incorrectly described by some liberal media outlets as the crumbling of the “blue wall of silence,” in actuality Minneapolis-area police are trying to paint Chauvin as having “gone rogue” so they can paint themselves as an otherwise responsible police force.
The state’s precarious effort to criminally convict Chauvin and politically acquit the police force as an institution collapsed on the eve of week three when, 10 miles down the road, the police carried out the murder of another unarmed Black man: 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Daunte was killed by none other than 26-year veteran and police-union president Kim Potter, now resigned and facing manslaughter charges.
Clearly, Chauvin is not simply a dangerous outlier. The three cops that helped Chauvin kill Floyd, themselves due to stand trial later this year, prove that. So does the recent murder of Daunte Wright. If the racist U.S. court system proves incapable of delivering justice in this most obvious of cases, millions are expected to take to the streets in outrage.