Full Disclosure: I hadn’t watched the famous video when this first happened. We were in the middle of a pandemic and the self-imposed isolation had already made my chronic depression too much to handle at times. I had seen the Eric Garner video years before and imagined something similar, something I felt I didn’t have the strength to watch at that time. So the first time I did see it was when the trial began. I am also the mother of a daughter who is half African American and the grandmother of two African American granddaughters. So it was easier for me to picture someone I love dearly under that knee. Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement also makes me more predisposed to favor the prosecution, no matter how hard I try to be objective.
The Prosecution: The video was so much worse than I had prepared myself for. Added to that the police camera video made it even worse. What I saw was a man who was afraid, not a man who was aggressive. I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of his voice both before and after he was on the ground with a knee on his neck, I think it will haunt me for years to come. Listening to the witnesses on top of those images had me in tears for days. So I can only imagine a thread of what those witnesses and his family must be still feeling. The level of pain is unimaginable. Just imagining my own children in that situation was too painful.
Honestly, had I been a juror, those videos would be more than enough to convince me of Chauvin’s guilt. But I promised myself to do my best to keep an open mind until both sides had their say.
The number of police officers willing to come forward and say that Chauvin was not following training and that what he did was way beyond what was reasonable was impressive. As was the testimony from the captain who fired him after seeing the video.
As we got into the medical and more technical portion of the trial, I expected my mind to wander as it would be so much over my head. But it didn’t. The medical professionals who testified were impressive. They spoke in a way that made it easy to understand. I found the pulmonologist, Dr. Martin Tobin especially compelling. The calm professorial way he took us through the details of what was happening to George Floyd throughout those horrible 9 ½ minutes he let us imagine ourselves going through that kind of torture and that added so much to the empathy so many of us were already feeling. By the time they rested their case, I felt rung-out and exhausted. I wondered if there was anything the defense could possibly say to counter any of it.
The Defense: For the first time since the trial began, I saw witnesses who seemed openly hostile. The officer who defended Chauvin’s actions made me feel even angrier about what had been done to George Floyd than I was before he took the stand. The testimony of the ER nurse who had seen Floyd before and was trying to blame him and his drug use for his own murder, fell apart under cross-examination as she had to admit what she was saying and what she had written in the report didn’t match up. The medical “expert” also appeared hostile at times. The idea of carbon monoxide was ridiculous to me. First off, there’s no evidence that this occurred, and second, because Floyd wasn’t on the ground by his own choice. He was there because that’s where the police were holding him down. It wasn’t the same tone as the prosecution witnesses, you got the sense that all the witnesses had a more personal agenda.
The Wait: Like so many others across the country, I was holding my breath waiting for the jury to return. Feeling some hope that there would be at least some justice, that Chauvin would be found guilty on at least one of the counts and maybe not just manslaughter. But I also had the fear that what we’ve seen so often in the past would repeat itself. That Chauvin would walk, and it would send a signal to other police that they can do whatever they want without consequence.
I was also concerned about the reaction to that sort of outcome. It seemed to me that the preparations made by the city for reaction to a not-guilty outcome was guaranteed to turn any protest into a riot. It seems to be the wrong way to respond to people protesting police using excessive force is the presence of an excessive police reaction. Have them on call in case there’s trouble but keep them out of sight unless trouble starts.
The Verdict: I felt tears on my cheeks as the verdict was read. Not tears of joy, nothing about this is joyful, but tears of relief. The next time a police officer considers putting another human beings’ life in danger over a traffic stop, selling cigarettes, or any other petty crime, they will know that they can be held accountable.
This doesn’t solve all the problems the United States has with hate and racism, there’s still a lot of work to do. But it’s a start.
In more than one interview, Philonise Floyd has spoken of Emmett Till, calling him the first George Floyd. I want to see the day we can name the last Emmett Till.