Derek Chauvin Trial Continues To Be Hard To Watch
George Floyd died because Derek Chauvin killed him. However, people with consciences — unlike Chauvin — can't help blaming themselves. Genevieve Hansen, a 27-year-old firefighter and EMT, wishes she could have provided the medical assistance Floyd desperately needed. Christopher Martin, a 19-year-old former Cup Foods employee, wishes he'd never accepted that allegedly counterfeit $20 bill from Floyd on May 25.
Testifying Wednesday at Chauvin's murder trial, Martin described a quickly escalating series of events that ended in Floyd's death — all because of a $20 bill. Martin recognized the $20 that Floyd used to buy cigarettes as possibly counterfeit. He considered just accepting the bill because he didn't think Floyd knew it was fake, but Martin is hardly a high roller himself. Store policy was that if "you took a counterfeit bill, you would have to pay for it out of your money."
Employees are not the personal insurer for their employer. They also aren't trained to identify counterfeit currency. I assume Cup Foods doesn't recruit staff from the Treasury Department. This store policy is gross but probably legal because almost anything is when you don't have unions involved. Minimum wage in Minnesota is $10 an hour, so this was not an insignificant penalty for Martin.
“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could’ve been avoided.” Cup Foods cashier Christopher Martin descri… https://t.co/87BHMrNbTv— Court TV (@Court TV)1617210519.0
He still considered just paying for the cigarettes himself, but after speaking with his manager, he was told to confront Floyd, who was in his car outside with friends. This is especially cowardly middle management behavior. Was the manager too busy stocking expired milk to address the issue himself? The manager could've gotten Martin killed if Floyd had actually been a criminal threat.
Floyd had already left the store, so he couldn't confirm the chain of custody for the $20. This is probably why he wasn't inclined to return to the store.
"I notified them that they needed to come back into the store and the bill was fake and my boss wanted to talk to them," Martin said.
He testified Floyd "just seemed like he didn't want this to happen. He was just kind of like, 'why is this happening?'"
Why, indeed? This reminds me of my own experience with a supposedly counterfeit $20. When I lived in New York, I'd once hailed a cab (successfully, a personal triumph) and the previous passenger, a young woman, had paid with what the cabbie believed was a “bad" $20. He followed the woman with me in the cab (“don't worry," he said, “the meter's not running"), cornered her, and hopped out to scream at her for cheating him. He was literally shaking her as she cried, “I don't have any more money!" I offered to cover her fare so he'd leave her alone. I also hailed another cab. Yes, everyone tells me this was a con, but they didn't see this woman. She was legit terrified and not everyone's a Meryl Streep-caliber actor. All of this was over $20.
Martin was also willing to just cover the $20 himself, though at a greater personal cost. The manager refused and had another employee call the cops. It wasn't long before Floyd was handcuffed on the ground and Chauvin was killing him. All because of a $20 bill. I've seen people remark online that the police brutally killing someone because they'd reportedly passed a counterfeit bill is something that only takes place in authoritarian regimes. However, it's not uncommon in the America where Black people reside.
There's no immediate evidence that Floyd knowingly passed a counterfeit $20. He wasn't wearing a disguise, for instance, nor did he ask for the fake bill back. He just didn't want to be hassled. That's not a capital offense.
Martin testified that Floyd was friendly but appeared possibly high on drugs. (The prosecution correctly notes that Floyd's drug use was less compromising to his longterm health than Chauvin's knee on his neck.) It's even more irresponsible that Martin's manager would send him out to confront someone who was visibly intoxicated and all over $20. Cup Foods later told Court TV that it isn't store policy to send employees after suspected counterfeiters but only did so this time because of the great relationship the store had with Floyd. Sure.
When Martin saw Floyd carried away in a stretcher, he said he felt “disbelief" and “guilt."
"If I would've just not taken the bill, this could've been avoided," Mr. Martin testified.
The events of May 25 will likely torment Martin for the rest of his life. Chauvin killed Floyd but permanently scarred so many others. That shameful legacy will endure regardless of the jury's final verdict.
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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."