Derek Chauvin Had Plenty of Chances to Get off the Neck of George Floyd
As the Derek Chauvin trial unfolds, it feels like the world’s eyes are glued to their televisions. Everyone is watching and waiting to see what happens with what will probably become the trial of the decade. This whole thing is eerily reminiscent. It reminds me of the OJ Simpson trial of the 1990s, a once-in-a-generation event that will determine how all of us view the criminal justice system. What happens from here will shape our politics and lives for years, perhaps even decades to come.
We all watched the video. Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. That’s how long Officer Chauvin was on George Floyd’s neck. And from the outset of the trial, this seems to be the hardest thing to wrap our heads around.
I hate to state the obvious, here, but nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds is a really long time to press down with all of your body weight on another human being, especially by putting your knees into their back and onto their neck.
As the trial unfolds, a lot of people are preparing for the worst.
Many of us are old enough to remember the police from the Rodney King beating of the 1990s, getting let off and walking away from one of the most brutal instances of American history unscathed. The officers back in March of 1991 beat Rodney King and got off with impunity.
The incident was also recorded, but still, that wasn’t enough to secure a conviction. Rodney King had drugs in his system, or so they told us. He was a rabid drug zombie roaming the freeways of LA. They put the victim on trial and won.
And if this isn’t enough, we have plenty of recent cases to choose from to fuel our cynicism if we’d like.
Many younger adults who weren’t alive for Rodney King have watched video after video of black men being murdered at the hands of police. From Alton Sterling to Philando Castile, we’ve all watched as officer after officer has killed black men and not faced any punishment.
But is our cynicism a bit hasty? I think it may be. And I also think we’ll see a guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, including one for murder, not just manslaughter.
We’ve watched over the course of the week as witness after witness has been punching holes in any metaphorical shield the defense might have been able to cloak around Derek Chauvin to protect him from his own actions.
The outset of the trial began with the witnesses there at the scene, the poor souls who had to stand by helplessly as they watched a man breathe out his last breaths.
One particularly compelling testimony came from off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who happened to be walking by and witnessed the events first-hand. Hansen requested numerous times for the police to allow her to take Floyd’s pulse, fearing he’d died after losing consciousness before her very eyes. These requests were denied.
The police wouldn’t let the off-duty fire-fighter save a life because they were taking it right in front of her.
Then the trial shifted and we heard from police experts.
Police professionals from the department have taken the stand to say that what officer Chauvin did was not by the book of the department. Restraining a man who was cuffed by placing a knee on the neck, especially a man who had been handcuffed already behind his back, and most of all, a man who’d lost consciousness, is certainly not Minneapolis Police policy.
Professional after professional all agreed that what was done wasn’t what professionals do. We heard that professionals render aid to those in trouble, especially when someone’s life is on the line, something Derek Chauvin did not do.
And besides the inexplicable nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, there’s another thing that keeps creeping up in my mind, as I watch along and see the defense consistently become frustrated with their inability to gain a foothold in this trial.
The fact that Derek Chauvin had plenty of opportunities to get off the proverbial bus, so to speak, and decide to take his knee off of George Floyd. He could have shifted his course of action and the outcome would have been very different. But he didn’t. He pushed forward and someone died as a result.
He could’ve gotten off the bus as the crowd gathered around to watch the horror unfolding.
He could’ve gotten off the bus when George Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.”
And again, as George Floyd said again and again, “I can’t breathe.”
He could’ve gotten off the bus when the crowd started alerting him to the fact that, from their perspective, George Floyd appeared to be dying.
He could’ve gotten off the bus as George Floyd drifted into unconsciousness.
He could’ve gotten off the bus when the officers in the rear took George Floyd’s pulse and found nothing at all.
The man was dead at this point, and the officers chose to keep him under the knee of Derek Chauvin.
He could’ve gotten off the bus as the paramedics arrived and George Floyd hadn’t been a threat for several minutes.
But he didn’t. As we’ve seen from the video played during the trial, officer Chauvin opted to stay on Floyd all the way until the paramedics came to pick him up and place him into the ambulance. One paramedic noted that he believed that Floyd was already dead. It was too late. A man had already been killed.
The math of this all just doesn’t add up. It’s one thing to make a mistake by checking your phone while driving, a tragic accident that ends up killing someone in a split second. But between the nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds that Derek Chauvin was on the neck of George Floyd, and the ample opportunity he had — not to mention the warnings coming from all around him that he was making a grave mistake — to stop and consider that the person beneath him was a human being who’s life was being extinguished by his own actions.
The trial isn’t quite over yet. It’s been a little over a week and we’ve still got more witnesses to hear from, but today, the medical experts testifying that George Floyd died by asphyxiation, and not drugs or a coincidental heart attack at the most inopportune moment, seems like it may seal the deal.
This all preemptively smooths over the defense’s argument that George Floyd was on drugs and that’s what killed him. The medical professionals today said the cause of death wasn’t consistent with the findings of dying from a drug overdose. Fentanyl users who overdose go into a coma first. George Floyd did not.
It’s important to note that the prosecution has a tough battle ahead of them.
They have to convince all twelve jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. If even one juror remains unconvinced, it’s declared a mistrial, or a “hung jury” as they say, and Chauvin won’t be convicted.
But considering the evidence thus far, it seems to me that he probably will be.
And we just may finally see some justice.