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Chauvin Is Guilty, but the Trauma Won’t Stop

Chauvin Is Guilty, but the Trauma Won’t Stop
Chauvin Is Guilty, but the Trauma Won’t Stop

Another democracy-ish episode, “another insane week of being a Black person in America,” says Toure.

  • Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, was convicted on all counts after an 11-hour deliberation by the jury.

  • Just after Chauvin was taken away from the courtroom in handcuffs, news broke that Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant on her front lawn after she called them for help.

  • The Nation’s Elie Mystal joins Toure and Danielle to discuss the news of the week, as well as the police killings of Adam Toledo in Chicago and Daunte Wright just outside Minneapolis.

In the hours before the verdict was announced, Danielle felt physically ill. But she thought she would feel more relief than she does now –– that “I’d feel like we could take a deep breath,” she says. “That this could be the first in a series of police being held accountable for killing us like fucking animals in the streets.”

But the three-week trial was constantly interrupted by more killings. Daunte Wright was shot by police just a few miles away from the Minneapolis courthouse. In Chicago, police shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo when his hands were up in surrender.

And as Derek Chauvin was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom, any attempt at a deep breath was interrupted by news that a cop murdered 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio.

To break it all down, Toure and Danielle are joined again by Elie Mystal, legal expert and justice correspondent for The Nation.

“What we just went through to get here is unsustainable and unrepeatable,” Elie says of the guilty verdict.

“To get this one conviction, we needed 10 minutes of uninterrupted broad daylight video showing the murder, and a victim who was handcuffed, screaming for his mother while he was being killed. We needed a national protest movement over a summer during a pandemic. We needed years and years of work by Black activists to build the infrastructure so those protests could happen.”

We also needed a Democratic attorney general in Minnesota –– “this does not happen in a Republican state” –– as well as a prosecutor who was willing to bring charges, a three-week trial and 10 cops to break the “blue wall of silence” and testify against Chauvin.

“That is a heavy lift,” says Elie, “and it's not a lift that we can count on again.”

Episode Highlights –– Chauvin Is Guilty

Relief, interrupted

Danielle was touched by seeing George Floyd’s family cry tears of joy after all the work they’ve done to arrive at this day.

“But seeing their cheers brought me back to the Zimmerman courtroom, and the devastation of Trayvon Martin's parents –– and of all of the parents and families who never got that moment,” she adds.

Toure “felt tremendous catharsis” watching Chauvin’s exit. He wonders “if there was a small shudder that went through the police officers of America: like, shit, it can happen.”

But he doesn’t feel any joy in terms of whether it means we’ve moved forward on racial justice or police violence.

“This seems to me like an oasis in an impossible losing season: one victory following loss after loss.”

Elie was relieved as well, “and I don't want to soft sell that,” he says. “Because let's never forget the alternative here. As we were waiting for the verdict, I was thinking, if this goes bad, what happens tonight? What happens to this country? What happens to that community? ... The worst that could have happened would have been very bad.”

But when he learned about Ma'Khia Bryant, he “snapped back to reality and remembered that there is no victory. There is only continued struggle.”

The power of video –– and a 17-year-old girl

Danielle points out that the initial police statement “characterized what we saw for nine minutes and 27 seconds as a medical incident.”

Without the bravery of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who recorded the entire incident on her phone, “we wouldn't even be having this discussion,” she adds. “Because they had no qualms about the lie that they put together. And Derek Chauvin wasn't going to lose a night of sleep, let alone his job, had it not been for Darnella’s video.”

When Breonna Taylor was killed, the police report said “something like, a suspect was killed after officers returned fire upon being shot at while trying to execute a warrant,” Elie notes. “Breonna’s name wasn't even mentioned in the police report about her own murder.”

That’s why he always says that “any journalist who repeats a police report uncritically is just as just being a stooge.”

Toure agrees: “We in journalism and media consistently report what the police say as the official word … Have we not learned that the police lie all the time, and that we cannot take their word as official and binding and final?”

Toure also gives kudos to prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell, who was “stellar throughout” and concluded his closing argument with an unforgettable line: “You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big .... The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”

That got to the core of the prosecution’s case: “Chauvin's lack of humanity, his inability to see the humanity of George Floyd … his ego in the face of the onlookers,” he adds.

‘We’ve got to get better white people’

Danielle says the defense's case made her feel sick, because it relied on “tropes about Black people that were used to enslave us, like we have superhuman strength.”

According to the defense, even though he had been dead for three minutes, George Floyd “could have somehow leapt back into life” while Derrick Chauvin's knee was still on his neck and he was restrained by handcuffs in a prone position, face down on the pavement. The defense was asking the jury to believe that’s why excessive force is necessary.

“Elie, how do we move from that place?” she asks.

“To quote Chris Rock: we’ve got to get better white people,” he replies. “The only way those arguments stop being made is when attorneys in general understand that making them would so offend the average, least-common-denominator white juror.”

And the only way we get there is “if the least common denominator white person is as angered and outraged and offended by those arguments as we are,” he adds. “We are not there yet.”

The reason why the defense made the argument they did is “because they think it still holds water for the average white person on the street,” Elie notes. “And I can't say that they're wrong.”

Judge Cahill ‘took the bait’ when the defense was losing

Elie says he is “fundamentally a defense person at heart –– anti-carceral and generally anti-prosecution. So I appreciate the difficulty of Nelson's job.”

And it’s crucial that there are intelligent people willing to do that work, he adds. And Nelson “basically held it together until the end, when he just took the low-hanging racist fruit … He was flailing and he brought up Maxine Waters.”

That was something a “noble lawyer making a noble defense of a losing case does not do.”

That was also when Judge Cahill revealed himself as someone “trying to put his thumb on the scale for the defense,” Elie argues. “He took the bait and said, maybe you've got an argument for appeal. That was a white judge and a white defense attorney knowing they were losing.”

Toure isn’t a lawyer, but he has watched every episode of “L.A. Law,” and it appeared to him that Eric Nelson didn’t defend his client effectively –– especially when he replayed the damning video during his closing argument.

“It made George Floyd look even more sympathetic,” he says. “If my life was on the line, I would not want Eric Nelson defending me.”

Imagine a MAGA defense for Chauvin (um, no)

Elie doesn’t think Nelson is a great attorney –– ”but he wasn't terrible,” he says.

“He generally stayed within the corners of his case … Imagine this case if Alan Dershowitz or one of these MAGA lawyers was the defense attorney … They would have made the whole thing about cancel culture, culture wars, Donald Trump –– that Maxine Waters crap? He would have done that at the beginning.”

But why did he show the video? Elie thinks it “was to desensitize the jury to the humanity of George Floyd.”

And yet “we know that it didn't work, not just because we got a conviction, but because we got a conviction in 11 hours,” he says.

The jury’s rapid deliberation, and the fact they asked no questions, tells Toure there was no real argument among them.

Elie agrees and points out that they had to show they were “doing a professional job, taking this seriously and had open minds. But last time he was on the show, he said that I thought the verdict was baked in from the moment they sat the jury –– he just didn't know which way the verdict would go.

What ultimately moved the jurors? Let us count the ways

Toure asks whether Elie has a guess about “the last thing they needed to hear –– the old man crying? The chief of police who said, that's not what we do? The EMT who was like, I told them to check for a pulse, and they said to fuck off? Was there one thing? Or was it a whole group of things?”

Elie thinks it’s the latter.

“Think about it this way: some, though not all, of the jurors hadn't even seen the video. Now, if you're the defense, you thought that sitting those people was a good idea. But most likely, based on the rapidity of the verdict, that was probably a bad idea.”

Maybe if they had selected people who came to the trial with more knowledge about the case, “it would have been easier for them to play the de-sensitization game,” he says. “Because as it was, it seemed like people saw what actually happened and were like, oh, duh –– that's a murder.”

Danielle adds that, because Darnella Frazier’s video offers a clearer view and a wider angle than a bodycam video –– and also because it was so long –– Chauvin’s lawyers “couldn't argue the split-second defense. You know, they roll up on a situation and don't know what you expect. It's like, no –– for nine minutes? You knew what to expect.”

The brave bystanders: straight out of central casting

Toure thinks “most people, especially white people, will forgive the cops for making a millisecond decision, especially in the case of their fear of a Black person, especially a young Black person.”

But “this was no crime of passion,” Elie adds. “That's how we get to murder in this case. In other situations … a least-common-denominator white person thinks it's fundamentally okay to shoot black people if you do it quick.”

Toure notes that the bystanders in the video almost seem like they were chosen by a movie casting director.

“There's the girl who thinks: phone first, getting a really good clear vision of what's going on on the ground. There's the older guy who's identifying with Floyd and talking to him and saying, stop fighting them; you can't win … And there's the younger guy who's the martial artist, who can see what [Chauvin is] doing –– I trained in that maneuver, you are killing him.”

Altogether, they’re a “chorus” that displayed remarkable “courage in their passion to stand there and say, this is wrong,” he says.

To ‘die in the fullness of our rights’: Damn, Elie

“I hate to put it like this, but it's also that George Floyd died in a way that is acceptable to white people for us to die. He died on his knees. He died on the ground. He died submissively, handcuffed, unable to defend himself. White people don't want us to die on our feet. They don't want us to die fighting or arguing for ourselves.”

Instead, “they want us to die calling for our mother,” he adds. “When we die that way, perhaps they're willing to see a little bit of our humanity. But when we die in the fullness of our rights, they don't have time for that.”