The Trial of Derek Chauvin
Ten months after the nation witnessed George Floyd’s death on the streets of Minneapolis, the trial of Derek Chauvin has begun. Mr. Chauvin, who last May, knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, is being put on the stand. He faces charges of manslaughter, as well as charges of both second and third degree murder. He is pleading not guilty.
Week one of the projected four week long trial focused on witness testimony. Bystanders as young as nine years old testified, as well then-seventeen year old Darnella Frazier, who filmed the interaction, told their stories. Many of the witnesses were choked up on the stand and recalled feeling anger and helplessness at the situation unfolding in front of them. Some of the witnesses remember yelling at the police to stop, as they believe they were witnessing a murder. This has become a point of contention between the defense and prosecution. The defense is arguing that a rowdy crowd made it difficult for Mr. Chauvin to administer medical attention to Mr. Floyd.
Courtney Ross, George Floyd’s girlfriend, also testified. This brought up one of the main arguments of the defense, involving Mr. Floyd’s use of painkillers. His toxicology report lists methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system at the time of death. The defense argues this is the reason behind Mr. Floyd’s death.
Week two of the trial, however, brought in key medical experts such as Dr. Martin J. Tobin to the stand, and pushed back against the defense’s argument that Mr. Floyd died as a result of a drug overdose. Dr. Tobin, a pulmonologist and critical care physician, gave a detailed account of George Floyd’s last breaths. He counts Mr. Floyd’s breaths in a section of police body cam video, showing a normal respiratory rate, incompatible with that of someone who is overdosing on fentanyl. He describes how in fentanyl overdoses, the respiratory rate slows down by forty percent, rather than remains normal, as Mr. Floyd’s was.
Dr. Tobin describes the efforts Mr. Floyd had to exert in order to breathe, listing all the forces acting against him; the street beneath, the officers knee, his own arm handcuffed arm being pushed into his chest. Dr. Tobin then points to the exact moment that Mr. Floyd loses consciousness. Dr. Tobin was not the only one to refute the fentanyl argument.
Toxicologist Daniel Isenschmid brought up the issue of tolerance regarding the drug. He said that while the drugs were in his system, they were not at the level seen in fentanyl overdoses, as a result of Mr. Floyd’s built up tolerance. Police surgeon Dr. Bill Smock and Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, both testified and both noted that they believed police restraint to be the main cause of death, not a drug overdose.
Another shocking testimony came from other police officers. Police officers have been known to band together and protect their own in what is called a “blue wall of silence.” This silence was broken down when Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo testified. Shown a still image of Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, and asked whether he, according to police policy, believes it was reasonable force, he answers “It is not.” He went on to say that “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting”, Mr. Chauvin should have ceased to apply the level of force he was exerting, and he also confirmed that Mr. Cauvin violated more than one police policy.
This trial is representative of so many others like it. For families of Black people who have been killed, at the hands of a white police officer, this trial can retraumatize and reopen old wounds, and bring back memories of their own testimonies for trials regarding their own loved ones. Racial trauma continuously affects Black people every time there is another shooting, another chokehold, another trial. Note that seeking justice does not always heal trauma, but there is the potential for trials to lead to systemic change and more accountability.
The defense wants to instill doubt in the jurors’ belief in the videos, saying that there is more to the picture than the nine and half minutes shown. But the prosecution urges those jurors to believe what is in front of them, to see the murder.