Derek Chauvin Viciously Killed George Floyd But He’s A Cop So This Can Go Either Way
The George Floyd trial started this week. Well-meaning people insist we don't call it that, and in a just world, we wouldn't. After all, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is the one on trial. Floyd is the victim. Yet, in reality, that's not how these trials work. George Floyd is on trial, as were Terence Crutcher, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin. We protested and marched just to reach this point. We said Breonna Taylor's name but we never got this far.
Derek Chauvin's humanity is not on trial, but George Floyd's is. We all saw Chauvin kill Floyd. There's no debate over DNA or bloody gloves. The prosecution must prove that Floyd didn't deserve to die, and whenever a cop's involved, the odds are not in the victim's favor.
We learned Monday that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, not the already excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds we originally believed. (That number was based on bystander video of Floyd's death that went viral and led to public outrage. The video, which is over 10 minutes long in all, begins with Chauvin already on Floyd's neck, so it was not immediately clear how long he had been on Floyd prior to the video's start.) It's shockingly sociopathic, and prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell claimed during his opening statement that these are the "three most important numbers in this case."
He broke down the timing of Chauvin's kneeling into three sections: 4 minutes and 45 seconds as Floyd cried out for help, 53 seconds as Floyd flailed due to seizures and 3 minutes and 51 seconds as Floyd was non-responsive.
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, didn't dispute the new timing but insisted the "evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds." Floyd was tortured to death, but the defense argues he would've died anyway. Yes, Floyd is mortal and his time on the earth was limited. But this is a courtroom, not an intro to philosophy class. Chauvin accelerated the timeline on Floyd's demise, which is what reasonable people consider murder.
Nelson claimed with a straight face that Chauvin didn't kill Floyd, who actually "died of a cardiac arrhythmia, that occurred as a result of hypertension, coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and adrenaline flowing through his body." The peaceful release of adrenaline is just what happens when you're dying of natural causes at 46. It's not at all what happens when a uniformed psychopath is killing you. Hell, Floyd was probably dead already! They should've charged Chauvin with a lesser count of necrophilia. This is desperate, obscene, and offensive. It's a lot of terrible things at once.
The defense argues that Floyd posed such an immediate threat that Chauvin had to pin him to the ground for nine minutes and 29 seconds while he cried out for his dead mother. However, he was simultaneously so fragile that he just broke during a routine arrest in an apparently civilized nation. This reminds me of the Richard Pryor chokehold routine from 1979's Live In Concert.
PRYOR: Two [cops] grab your legs. One grab your head and SNAP. “Oh shit, he broke." Can you break [a Black guy]? Is it OK? Let's check the manual. Yep, Page 8: You can break [a Black guy]. Right there. See? Let's drag him downtown.
Nelson pretty much asked the jury to “check the manual." He said that "Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he had been trained to do during the course of his 19-year career." This doesn't hold up in mobster trials — “My client left the gun and took the cannoli. That's standard operating procedure." — and it shouldn't hold up here. It takes brass gall to state in court that police brutality exists but that's OK because cops are deliberately trained to be sociopaths. If this is true, they should recall all cops like malfunctioning automobiles that might blow up and choke you to death. It's a regular league of assassins out there.
Donald Williams II, who was there when Chauvin choked Floyd to death, was a crucial witness for the prosecution. He's a longtime martial arts fighter and recognized that Chauvin had Floyd pinned in a “blood choke," which is less pleasant than it sounds. I say this as someone who hates guns and loves Batman comics, but I'd personally prefer cops just shot me. There's a reason why most action movies don't feature a single cop slowly choking the life out of 10 different unarmed men before they roll the credits. Audiences would vomit into their popcorn.
Williams compellingly described how Floyd begged for life.
"'My stomach hurts, I can't breathe, my head hurts, I want my mom,' " the 33-year-old Williams testified. "He said he wanted to get in the car, he said he's sorry for what he did." [ ... ]
"You see Floyd fade away like the fish in the bag," he said. "He vocalized that he can't breathe and 'I'm sorry.' His eyes rolled back in his head."
Just watching this would torment a normal human, but I doubt Chauvin has shed a tear over Floyd's death.
Here's the thing: Very few white people believe that this is how the police will treat them. Even accused insurrectionists arrested while wearing T-shirts proclaiming their guilt manage to survive intact before they're released on bail.
Nelson said that Chauvin's use of force was "unattractive but necessary." That's not just the name of my debut rap album from 1993. It's how white Americans are conditioned to view police violence. That's the lie we're fighting, and it's too soon to tell if we'll win.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."