Last year, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes (9 minutes and 29 seconds), ultimately killing him. Floyd’s death was recorded by onlookers and blasted all over social media for months. Day in and day out, the video was inescapable.
You saw it on the news. You saw it on social media. You saw it everywhere.
Now, almost a year later, the death of Floyd has reached the court of law but it feels like everyone except Chauvin is on trial. The death of Floyd was not only traumatizing to people who saw the video of his death on various social media platforms but also to the people who saw the death in real-time, with their own two eyes.
On the second day of the trial, Darnella Frazier took the stand to relive that life-altering event. Frazier was not only an onlooker to the heinous crime, but she also recorded the video seen by millions of people worldwide. At the time of Floyd’s death, Frazier was a 17-year-old high school student.
Now at the age of 18 when she should be worrying about going to prom and starting college, Frazier is forced to be a witness in a murder trial that she says has scarred her for life. Frazier testified she has lost nights of sleep thinking about what she could have done to change the outcome of that event.
“It’s been nights I stay up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it’s not what I should have done,” Frazier said. “It’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.”
Chauvin’s trial is a sad reminder that the deaths of citizens at the hands of police officers have a lasting effect on people outside of the family of the deceased. We tend to forget there are real-life onlookers like Darnella Frazier and her other underaged cousins who also witness the crime. The demise of Floyd was caught on camera for the world to see.
Yet we still have to have a trial to decide whether or not Chauvin is culpable for Floyd’s death.
On top of reliving her feeling of regret, Frazier also testified it appeared that Chauvin dug his knee deeper into Floyd’s neck as bystanders begged and pleaded for Chauvin to stop. Floyd continuously said he could not breathe, yet Chauvin never got up. His knee remained pinned in Floyd’s neck when the paramedics arrived.
His knee was still in Floyd’s neck when the paramedics took his pulse. Chauvin did not move until he was instructed to do so by paramedics. Frazier testified Chauvin has a cold look in his eyes and looked as if he did not care about anything the bystanders were saying.
On the same day of Frazier’s testimony, Donald Williams II who was also a bystander at the scene of the crime shared his recollections. Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric J. Nelson spent a big chunk of the second-day trial grilling Williams as if he was the one responsible for Floyd’s death.
In a bizarre line of questioning, Nelson questioned Williams, who is a mixed martial artist, on his experience as a fighter. At one point, Nelson asked Williams if he had ever been able to speak when held in a chokehold, implying if Chauvin truly had Floyd in a chokehold, he would not be able to speak.
While this line of questioning is typical in a trial of this kind, it sheds light on the way defense attorneys go out of their way to shift blame from their clients to innocent bystanders. There are video proof and multiple witnesses who can testify to the actions of Chauvin, but his defense is brazenly implying the behaviors of the bystanders had more effect on the demise of Floyd than Chauvin lodging his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes.
It was not long into Nelson’s questioning of Williams before the attorney attempted to paint the witness as an angry black man. Nelson claimed the behavior of Williams and other bystanders directly contributed to the death of Floyd and made it harder for the police to do their jobs.
In his opening statement, Nelson painted the crowd as disruptive, violent, and unruly but really, we should be questioning how people are supposed to react as they watch a public servant kill someone from the very community they are paid to protect. This point was reiterated multiple times as Nelson tried to convince the jury that there might have been a different outcome if onlookers like Williams would have just remained calm.
This way of thinking is dangerous, and the defense knows this. When they try to paint the crowd as violent it shifts the blame onto the crowd and not the man who had his knee in a man’s neck. It sends the message that we have to be nice to police officers in order for them to do their jobs properly. It reminds the citizens of this country that police officers like Chauvin can escape prosecution if they can prove they are not responsible for their actions.
It’s a slippery slope America has been sliding down for decades.
The justice system is not built to provide justice for victims like Floyd because even in his death, he is on trial. During the last two days of the trial, Nelson implied Floyd’s death was the result of a fentanyl overdose and not a chokehold. These claims were disputed by multiple medical professionals.
Daniel Isenschmid, a forensic toxicologist testified the amount of drug found in Floyd’s system was similar to that of someone alive and not suffering from an overdose. Meaning, the number of drugs found in Floyd’s body was not enough to trigger an overdose.
Dr. Bill Smock who is the Louisville Metro Police Department’s surgeon also testified that he found no evidence of an overdose contributing to the death of Floyd.
“Mr. Floyd died from positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body,” he said.
As Chauvin’s trial enters its third week, we need to be mindful that Frazier, Williams, nor Floyd are not on trial. They did not commit murder. They are innocent victims and bystanders of what Chauvin did. We can accuse Floyd of being a drug addict who tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase at a liquor store but the truth is he will never be able to defend himself in the court of law because of the actions of Chauvin robbed him of his life.
George Floyd is not on trial, but Derek Chauvin is.
Featured Image: George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The mural, located on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, is the work of artists Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McLain. The group started working on the mural on Thursday morning and finished it within 12 hours with the help of artists Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez. Photo credit: Laurie Shaull