Trial and Error: Who’s Really Being Prosecuted In Minneapolis?
As our hosts record this episode of democracy-ish, we are in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial, “which is extremely triggering,” says Toure.
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who asphyxiated George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, is underway.
So far, the defense’s case is weak –– but it seems to hinge on assassinating Floyd’s character, questioning his health and generally putting the victim on trial.
This week’s not all bad news, though: The State of New York legalized recreational marijuana and enacted a wide-ranging set of policies to rectify decades of racial inequity in the “war on drugs.”
Until this week, Toure had never watched the infamous viral video of Floyd’s murder in its entirety.
“Now I'm basically forced to watch the whole thing in pieces,” he says. “And I'm also watching witnesses who were nearby, telling the cops: You are killing him, let him go.”
Not only that, Chauvin’s defense hinges on assassinating the character of George Floyd, which traumatizes us further, says Toure. “But typical of America, where the Black man is guilty until proven innocent, where the victim is on trial. Where his quality of life determines the humanity ascribed to him.”
Danielle finds the trial “incredibly distressing” as well. But the worst part isn’t the “cruelty and the lack of humanity” in Chauvin’s actions, she says.
It’s that he apparently “was getting off on the power he had … to take someone's life because he could. And the way he looked into the cameras is how, in elementary school history class, I remember looking at the faces of white people as they are celebrating the lynching of a Black body hanging from a tree behind them.”
That’s why it feels like “history repeating itself over and over again,” says Danielle. “The faith I have in America right now is not even an ember of coal.”
But there’s a spark of hope for those of us who care about equity in the criminal justice system.
Episode Highlights –– America on Trial
‘Admissible’ evidence of… nothing that matters
For Danielle, Judge Cahill’s decision to allow Floyd's criminal record to be admissible in court seems like it’s from another era, before rape shield laws.
“Prior to sexual assault policy, what a woman was wearing when she was raped was admissible in fucking court,” she says. “The idea was that had you not enticed the man, you wouldn't have gotten raped.”
Now, it feels like she’s hearing a similar message, one that says, “Black person: Had you not been caught being Black in the streets, nothing would have befallen you. Or, George Floyd was a criminal so he deserved to be put down.”
It’s galling that someone who can’t “speak on their own behalf because he is dead shouldn't be on fucking trial,” Danielle adds.
But there’s a bigger problem with the logic of admitting Floyd’s criminal record in these proceedings: The police officers wouldn't have known his background when they detained him.
He wasn’t accused of violent behavior and he wasn’t behaving in a violent manner. He was unarmed. So why are we talking about Floyd’s history?
“It’s not the reason why Chauvin’s knee was on top of him,” says Toure.
Threat level: hands in pockets
Floyd was “clearly not posing a threat, not trying to resist,” Toure says. “And still, evil Chauvin is sitting there with his knee on the brother's neck and his hands in his pockets.”
That detail –– the officer’s hands in his pockets –– “conveys an almost evil level of casualness,” he says. “But you can see that his left foot is flexed and he's putting as much pressure as he can on Floyd’s neck with his knee. It's very, very, very difficult to watch.”
Even if the police had seen Floyd’s record before they approached him, they didn’t have the right to kill him.
“That's certainly not the way that we do things,” Toure says. “We don't allow the police to be the judge, jury and executioner. And whatever you say George Floyd did in the past, Derek Chauvin's record is worse, because he's a murderer.”
Based on the video evidence, it’s patently obvious Chauvin wasn’t concerned for his own safety.
“He clearly was cool, calm and collected,” Danielle points out. “He wasn't even concerned about the safety of his fucking sunglasses on top of his head.”
The notion that a police officer can say I fear for my life –– “when you're