Last week marked the beginning of Derek Chauvin’s trial. Yet, this trial is about so much more than demanding justice for George Floyd. It represents the justice that Black Americans have long deserved; the justice that is long overdue. One of my favorite living civil rights activists, Shaun King, said it best, “Fundamentally, it’s about whether or not it’s going to be legal to lynch a black man in public.”
Although Chauvin’s attorney said Chauvin’s actions were what he was trained to do, the violence from Chauvin to Floyd was not an appropriate police-pedestrian interaction. It was a public murder of a Black man by a white cop. Chauvin was not defending himself from a possible threat: this was a civilian begging for a breath while being pinned down for over nine minutes.
The fact that Chauvin is even pleading not guilty is comical to me when we all saw before our eyes the murder of a Black man who did not need to be pinned down for nine minutes. What we saw, what the world saw, was beyond wrong. The aggressive policing towards BIPOC in the U.S. is undeniable.
You cannot help but wonder if George Floyd would still be living if only he had a lighter complexion. To me, the answer is clear. We see white murderers being guided away from crime scenes when this Black man lost his life over an alleged petty crime.
A witness from the trial, Donald Wynn Williams II, who was an MMA fighter, was able to identify the technique the officer was using in suffocating Floyd, adding that Chauvin would have needed adjustments to maintain the pressure on Floyd’s neck. All the while, George Floyd, handcuffed and compliant, begged for his life as witnesses recorded and pleaded for Chauvin to stop. Despite all of this, after over nine whole minutes, Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck until Floyd was murdered.
Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. One cannot deny the intention behind an act continued for that long. Chauvin knew what he was doing, and now he thinks he can get away with it being, “a part of his job.” The job Chauvin held was for the purpose of protecting citizens, and he did the complete opposite. According to Chauvin’s supervisor, Chauvin should have either released his hold on Floyd as soon as he was handcuffed and compliant or after a maximum of five minutes. Chauvin nearly doubled this time. Floyd was unconscious during the final five minutes.
Analyzing the defense attorneys’ attempt to prove Chauvin’s innocence reveals the racism that persists in our society. They’re attempting to paint Floyd in a bad light, trying to argue that Floyd does not deserve justice. They’re blaming drug use for his death when there was a man that was kneeling on his neck for nearly ten minutes. Just another example of how opioid addiction is only viewed as a public health crisis if the user is white. For a Black man, it’s used to justify murder.
They’re arguing that Chauvin’s use of force was necessary for the “threatening” Floyd. He was not threatening. He was restrained with handcuffs showing no signs of aggression, but he was Black, and because of that he’s now dead. Clearly, implicit biases were in play here for Chauvin and his defense attorney as they try to portray Floyd in this aggressive, threatening light when there’s plenty of footage that shows us the reality of the incident.
If Floyd was white, first of all, this would not have happened, but there certainly wouldn’t be any question about the quality of his character. Black people get killed by police twice; the first is the actual loss of life, and the second is the assassination of character used to justify their murder, which just encourages racist policing.
The lynching of Black citizens in public has been tolerated for much too long. The cold murder of a man in broad daylight is something we as a society don’t accept from our fellow citizens, but we’ve accepted this from countless police officers, people we should be holding to a much higher standard. This is what makes this trial so important: are we going to tolerate the lynching of a Black man, or are we finally going to say enough is enough?