By Terrance Turner
March 26, 2021
Today, the trial of Derek Chauvin begins. Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes. Despite Floyd’s repeated attempts to breathe and repeated requests for mercy, Chauvin continued to kneel on his neck until Floyd died.
The brutality of the death was recorded by bystanders. The footage of the murder spread like wildfire online and through news reports, sparking weeks of protests. Those protests spread throughout the country (including 60,000 protesters in Houston). They also spread overseas, with protests in Paris, in London, in Berlin.
This morning, the prosecution delivered its opening statement on the case. The prosecution noted that Floyd was approached by police over a fake $20 bill. He was threatened by officers, manhandled, shoved into a police car. “Chauvin at one point had his hands around Mr. Floyd’s neck in the squad car,” the prosecution says. “They pulled him out of the squad car, put him on the ground in a prone position, and that’s when the nine minutes and 29 seconds begins.”
Notably, prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell made the case that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds — not the infamous original count of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. (Significantly, a number of activists, including Al Sharpton, kneeled outside the courthouse for 8 minutes and 46 seconds today.) But according to CNN, the opening statements of Chauvin’s criminal trial featured attorney Jerry Blackwell repeatedly emphasizing the new 9:29 timing, telling jurors they were 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’s flailed due to seizures and 3 minutes and 51 seconds as Floyd was non-responsive,” CNN added.
The prosecution played a video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, warning that the video is graphic. (For that reason, I will not be embedding the video here.) In the video, bystanders, both male and female, criticize the use of force by Officer Chauvin and the inaction of the officers nearby.
“He enjoying that s–t,” a man says on the video. “He enjoying that s—t.”
“You can’t even look me in the eye like a man, ’cause you a bum,” he says.
“His nose is bleeding,” says a woman nearby.
“He’s not even resisting arrest right now,” the man adds.
As Floyd expires, the people beseech the police to render aid. “Check his pulse!” they say. “Check his pulse.”
“Did they just kill him, bro?” a woman asks. “They just f–kin’ killed him.”
Instead of rendering aid to the man, Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck. Officer Tuo Thao stood by and watched, preventing bystanders from intervening.
“He’s heaving up his right shoulder,” the lawyer said, to expand his ribcage and allow himself room to breathe. He informed the courtroom that bystanders including Donnell Williams (heard speaking on the video) called the police — on the police. So did a major party: the prosecution revealed that a 911 dispatcher was so disturbed by the action that she did something she’d never done in her career — she called the police, on the police.
In the months after Floyd’s death, many have reported that he struggled with addiction, alleging he died of an overdose. But the prosecution firmly disputed that. “He died one breath at a time, over a long period of time,” said the prosecution. “You will learn that he did not die from a drug overdose, from an opioid overdose.” In an overdose, people appear asleep — in a stupor, the lawyer explained. 11 milligrams of fentanyl was in his system, he conceded. But that was not a lethal amount — in Floyd’s case.
The prosecution explains that Floyd had struggled with an opioid dependency for many years, and had developed tolerance to them. Counsel further states that “his behavior was not consistent with that of someone who died from an opioid overdose.”
The medical examiner said in a statement that George Floyd’s death was a homicide, which means “he died at the hands of another”. In detail, his death was a “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforment subdual restraint and neck compression,” the prosecution said. “All cardiopulmonary arrest means is that the heart stops and the lungs stop.” How did the incident occur? “Decedent experienced cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officers.”
How does injury or disease lead to death? There are five ways:
A heart attack is a “natural” death. A drug overdose is an example of an “accidental” death. If you can’t tell what happened, the death would be “undetermined”. The death only fit into one category, per the prosecution. “It wasn’t natural. Not accidental. Not suicide. Not undetermined. It was a homicide — death at the hands of another.”
He was a big guy — over 6’6″ — but his size is no excuse for any police abuse, counsel said. Floyd lived for years, day in, day out, with heart disease and substance dependency — until the one day that he didn’t. And he wasn’t just a figurehead or a martyr, the prosecution asserted; he was a person.
George Floyd was 46 years old. He was a father, brother, cousin and friend. He excelled in basketball and football. He moved to Minnesota for a fresh start. He worked as a security guard but lost his job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He was a COVID survivor, as it turns out.