What we are Learning From the Derek Chauvin Trial

By Shania Pagan

The killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, catapulted not only the media, but many people into a frenzy of social justice advocates, outcries against police brutality, and an overall heightened awareness of the interactions between people of color and police forces.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, who was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in regards to Floyd’s death, began his trial on Monday, March 8, 2021. Chauvin was the last officer to have a physical interaction with him, as he used a knee to neck restraint on the handcuffed Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

During this time, Floyd pleaded for his life, repeating over and over that he couldn’t breathe, until he passed.

The interaction began when Floyd attempted to buy a pack of cigarettes at a Cup Foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota with an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. Christopher Martin, the 19-year-old cashier who accepted the bill, testified on the third day of trial. Martin allegedly planned on paying for the cigarettes himself, and having the money deducted from his paycheck from the store.

However, that interaction never happened. Martin told the court he felt guilty about the outcome, saying that it could have been avoided if he just took the bill and faced the consequences from his job. Instead the police were called by the store manager, and it resulted in the fatal interaction.  

The trial so far has called forward many, including store workers, fellow police officers, and multiple bystanders, some of whom are children.

Three high school juniors and a second grade student were customers at the Cup Foods at the time of the altercation between Floyd and the Minnesota police officers. Darnella Frazier, now 18 years old, witnessed Floyd’s last moments with her 9-year-old cousin Judeah, who accompanied her to the store. 

During the trial, Frazier stated that she saw “a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.” Frazier recorded and took photos of the interaction, feeling that she needed to have proof of what she was witnessing. Judeah, her young cousin, also testified, stating that “the ambulance had to push him (Chauvin) off of him. They asked him nicely to get off of him, but he stayed on him.”

Another person who testified in the trial thus far, is Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old Black man, and one of the bystanders of the incident. McMillian interacted with Floyd moments prior to his death, the occurrence caught on police body camera and security camera footage where he can be heard yelling to Floyd, “You can’t win, man.” He later clarified his statement, telling the court that he meant, “just cooperate, get in the car, go with them.”

Upon watching the footage in court of Floyd’s last moments, McMillian broke down in tears, overwhelmed with reliving the fatal occurrence, which caused the judge to initiate a short recess of the trial.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest serving police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, testified on the fifth day of trial. He was blunt about his disapproval of Chauvin’s actions as a fellow officer, stating that “pulling him down to the ground face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time, it’s just uncalled for.”

The knee hold used by Chauvin is arguably the most crucial aspect about the trial and killing. It was an unnecessary abuse of power, deemed so by bystanders and other officers. The hold is supposed to be used in life threatening situations only, when there is no other option to subdue someone who is under arrest.  

Floyd, who was restrained and on the ground for nearly nine minutes under the former officer’s knee, was arguably no threat at that point to any of the officers around him. The trial has been highly emotional thus far, and will continue to be as more evidence is provided.

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