Sacrificing Your Life for Justice
These are initial takeaways from the Derek Chauvin trial in chronological order:
What first stood out to me during the trial was jury selection. Each potential jury member filled out this 60+ question survey. In the section “Knowledge of the Case”, potential jurors weren’t just asked if they’d heard of the incident but rather very specifically:
In a section labeled “Police Contacts”, jurors were also asked about past experiences with police officers in their communities and personal lives. Interestingly in that section, jurors were asked “How favorable or unfavorable are you about Black Lives Matter?” (as well as “How favorable or unfavorable are you about Blue Lives Matter?”).
After jury selection, the world watched a lot of camera footage of George Floyd being suffocated and heard from many experts & witnesses, including teenagers and one 9 year old. I know kids are tough. But also, no one wants their child to watch a man suffocate to death.
There was one witness, Christopher Martin, who was particularly striking. He’s a 19 year old clerk at Cup Foods and lived above the store with his mom and younger sibling. Minutes before Mr. Floyd died, Christopher was admiring Mr. Floyd’s physique, asking him “did you play baseball?” Later that day, Christopher accepted counterfeit money from Mr. Floyd and then decided to confront Mr. Floyd about the bill, at which point, Christopher’s coworker called the police. During the incident, Christopher talked about walking outside, seeing Mr. Floyd and calling his mother to not come downstairs. At the trial, despite his experience, he was one of the only witnesses on the scene who when questioned by the defense, answered politely. He seemed like a man just trying to do the right thing. Lastly and most sadly, in his testimony he spoke of feeling guilty and when asked more about it he said “If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.”
On April 20th, the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murder in the death of George Perry Floyd. This was no small feat: “very few prosecutors have ever convicted a police officer of murder for killing on the job”.
I’m sure the resourcing on the prosecution helped make this case first of its kind. The defense consisted of 1 lawyer and their assistant. The prosecution was 14 lawyers and many behind-the-scenes helping hands. It’s undoubtedly easier to build a case if you have more resources. And it makes me wonder how many cases have been lost by one side not having enough firepower.
But I don’t think it was just a resourcing game. It is also almost certainly that the high volume of video coverage (from hand-held phones, police body-cameras, near-by store surveillance tapes, and street cameras) and, for virtually the first time, senior law enforcement officers testifying on behalf of the prosecution made this case.
The justice system gave Chauvin a fair trial. But, a more functioning system would ensure politicians — like the sitting US president — don’t undermine the key presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A more functioning system would give Mr. Floyd a trial for forgery — not a death sentence.
After the verdict came out, Nancy Pelosi said “Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice” in front of the Congressional Black Caucus on national TV. There is no evidence that Mr. Floyd willingly sacrificed his life to make a point about police brutality. Martyrs are remembered in history, but I think his daughter would have settled for a dad. As Jerry Blackwell put it in his opening statement, “he was not simply just an object of the excessive use of force of police…he was somebody to a lot of other bodies in the world.”