Get up, Let Up. Justice for George Floyd: The Trial of Derek Chauvin

justice for george floyd

For those readers that need a refresher, George Floyd, a black man, was killed last May 25, 2020 when Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police department, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes in broad daylight. Videos speak louder than words so to recap the evenings events:

There is no better evidence than the video, no better words to articulate the horror than the Minneapolis deputy attorney general’s words in his opening statement “Get up, Let up.”

All this over a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. Would it have happened if George Floyd was white? That is the counterfeit twenty dollar bill question. It’s important to remember that George Floyd is more than the symbol of a man who has made headlines because of this police brutality – he was a son, brother, father, and grandfather at the time of his death. He leaves behind not just trauma for the community but grief for a large family with children who will now grow up fatherless and grandchildren who will never know their grandfather. Like many he lost the job he was working at as a bouncer at a restaurant when Minnesota’s governor issued a stay-at-home order because of the pandemic. 

“George Floyd moved to Minnesota for a fresh start — an opportunity to better himself and to be a better father.”

“And while so many now know the Houston native by his full name, those who knew him best called him Floyd.”

“He worked security at a restaurant where he developed a reputation as someone who had your back and was there for you when you were down.”

“Knowing my brother is to love my brother,” Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, told CNN’s Don Lemon.”

“He’s a gentle giant, he don’t hurt anybody.”

The gentle giant who would not hurt anyone was maliciously hurt by police officer Derek Chauvin, and his fellow officers who saw an opportunity to exert their power over George Floyd.

“Floyd, 46, died May 25 in the city he moved to for a better life, his last moments caught on video. While being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. The video shows Floyd pleading that he is in pain and can’t breathe. Then, his eyes shut and the pleas stop. He was pronounced dead shortly after.”

“That officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on Friday and first charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The new second-degree murder charge says that Chauvin killed Floyd “without intent” in the course of committing assault in the third degree, according to an amended complaint.”

“Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who helped restrain Floyd, and Tou Thao, who stood near the others, were not initially charged. Lane, 37, Kueng, 26, and Thao, 34, are now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.”

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/27/us/george-floyd-trnd/index.html

The Trial of Derek Chauvin opened this morning when the prosecution called their first witness, Jena Scurry, the 911 dispatcher in Minneapolis who watched the events on a surveillance camera and because she got such a bad feeling she “called the police on the police”. Her “instincts” told her that what she was watching needed to be reported to the “higher ups” and so she called Minneapolis Sgt. David Pleoger, who oversaw the officers involved in the arrest in progress.  Sgt. Pleoger is expected to testify in the weeks to come. 

“A 911 dispatcher who was viewing the scene of George Floyd’s death last May through a nearby police camera did something she’d never done before: She called the cops on the cops.”

“You’re going to learn that there was a 911 dispatcher. Her name is Jena Scurry,” special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, who provided opening statements on behalf of the state, told jurors at trial of former officer Derek Chauvin in downtown Minneapolis on Monday. “There was a fixed police camera that was trained on this particular scene. She could see through the camera what was going on. You will learn that what she saw was so unusual and, for her, so disturbing that she did something that she had never done in her career.” https://www.vice.com/en/article/3anx8b/911-dispatcher-who-watched-george-floyd-die-called-the-police-on-derek-chauvin

As I’m watching this first day of the trial and writing this article at the same time I can’t help but think why Derek Chauvin doesn’t take a plea and save the country the heartache of going through this tragedy all over again. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that Derek Chauvin “betrayed his badge”. 

“Minneapolis officers “take an oath that, ‘I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately’ and as you will learn, as it applies to this case, ‘never employing unnecessary force or violence,’” prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell told the jury. “You will learn that on May 25 of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge.” 

As part of his opening remarks Blackwell asked the jury to find Chauvin guilty on three criminal charges. https://www.npr.org/sections/trial-over-killing-of-george-floyd/2021/03/29/982297045/derek-chauvin-betrayed-this-badge-prosecutor-says-in-opening-argument

He said the jury will be asked to find Chauvin, 45, guilty. He is facing three criminal charges, as listed in court documents:

  • second-degree murder — unintentional — while committing a felony
  • third-degree murder — perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind
  • second-degree manslaughter — culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk

“Blackwell also discussed medical aspects of the case, saying the jury will learn about what Floyd’s body was experiencing in those final minutes of life. He said Floyd’s body made involuntary movements while he was being held down by Chauvin, including a seizure and “agonal breathing” from oxygen deprivation.”

“Despite Chauvin being told twice that Floyd did not have a pulse, “he does not let up, and he does not get up,” Blackwell said. He added that the officer did not move off Floyd even as a paramedic sought a pulse. It wasn’t until a gurney was brought to remove Floyd’s body that Chauvin lifted his weight off Floyd, Blackwell said.”

The defense will argue that there is “more to the story than meets the eye” and the “battle” the trial “hinges on is the cause of George Floyd’s death”. 

“Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, told jurors later Monday that Floyd had a serious heart condition and had dangerous drugs in his system when he died.”

“Lead defense attorney Eric Nelson said Floyd displayed “none of the telltale signs of asphyxiation.” 

“There was “no evidence that Mr. Floyd’s airflow was restricted,” Nelson said. “”

“He said Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused by hypertension and coronary disease along with the presence of fentanyl, methamphetamine and adrenaline in Floyd’s body.”

“The prosecution had said earlier that “George Floyd lived for years, day in and day out with all of these conditions,” but did not die until Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes on May 25.”  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/derek-chauvin-trial-n1262292/ncrd1262359#liveBlogHeader

“The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body — all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart,” Nelson said.”

The white defense wants to paint Floyd as a lowlife drug addict forger who is high on fentanyl and methamphetamine and that is the reason for his death, as if he would have died that day anyway without the help of a white knee to his neck. This is absurd. I would like to point out that white people do drugs, too. And if George Floyd were white this would not have happened. 

“Denying white drug use and denying the prevalence of racial inequality allows the drug war’s runaway punitiveness to “make sense” to the majority of Americans. Holding a belief system that portrays underprivileged African Americans and Latino/a Americans as incompetent and criminal at the same time that it reinforces whiteness as competent and law abiding, is the privileged white majority’s punitive fix – a “cultural crack,” if you will [2001: 444]”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5121004/

There is so much video footage to be had and from various angles to show George Floyd crying that he “could not breath” – which by the way might be considered a dying declaration. What does not meet the eye here? A picture always speaks louder than words and we have both the final words of George Floyd, “I can’t breath” – his dying declaration and the video footage of it for all the world to see. 

“A dying declaration is a statement made by a declarant, who is unavailable to testify in court (typically because of the declarant’s death), who made the statement under a belief of certain or impending death. The statement must also relate to what the declarant believed to be the cause or circumstances of the declarant’s impending death.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/dying_declaration#:~:text=A%20dying%20declaration%20is%20a,of%20certain%20or%20impending%20death.

Might I also remind the reader that Floyd was afraid to enter the police car in the first place and was telling the police that he could not breathe when they were trying to push him into the police car (see video at minutes 9) before they pulled him out of the police car and onto the ground.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gQYMBALDXc

The prosecution keeps showing footage after footage of that awful evening. It does not matter from what angle one views the footage – the result is the same: George Floyd died because he was suffocated by a knee pressed on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.   

To put what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd into perspective I looked up death by strangulation as that was the closest thing to what I believed he did by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck. 

“Strangulation has only recently been identified as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence: unconsciousness may occur within seconds and death within minutes. When domestic violence perpetrators choke (strangle) their victims, not only is this felonious assault, but it may be an attempted homicide. Strangulation is an ultimate form of power and control, where the batterer can demonstrate control over the victim’s next breath; having devastating psychological effects or a potentially fatal outcome.”https://www.pottstown.org/DocumentCenter/View/211/Strangulation-Information-for-Victims

Last June the Hennepin County Medical examiner ruled that Floyd’s death was a homicide.

“The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled last June that Floyd’s death was a homicide, saying his heart and lungs stopped functioning “while being restrained.””

All the video footage in the trial and all the YouTube footage that can googled boils down to the same thing: George Floyd was handcuffed and three officers restrained him and one officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, while Floyd was crying that he could not breath until Floyd went silent. Chauvin was already in the police car and then pulled out of the car into the street. Why? Why did they just not drive to the station at that point? What did they have to restrain him in the first place? He was not violent.  Clearly Floyd was scared. He kept saying he was scared. He was a grown man calling for his mother. 

Now the question begs why not charge Derek Chauvin with first degree murder? First degree murder would be the intentional killing of George Floyd. The prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Derek Chauvin intended to snuff out the life of Geoge Floyd for a  counterfeit Jackson (did George even know it was a phony twenty or did the cops?)

“We were more concerned with at least attaining that person on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill and then figuring out the validity of the bill,” Mr Lane can be heard in the audio recording.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/george-floyd-thomas-lane-counterfeit-20-derek-chauvin-a9682781.html

That may be a hard sell to the jury. Or would it? 

The pandemic decreased the number of arrests so why did they have to single George Floyd out for this particular incident? The bill was not even verified as counterfeit.  Perhaps they saw an easy target and decided that they would make an example of him, or Derek Chauvin decided he would. 

“When it comes to DUIs and drug offenses, the figures are slightly more optimistic. There have been significant drops in traffic and person stops. In some areas, figures have decreased by as much as 92%.” https://www.dwiminneapolislawyer.com/how-covid-19-impacted-dui-rates/

In the moment that Derek Chauvin put his knee on Geroge Floyd’s neck he would have to have known that his knee was similar to strangulation and or choking and he would have to have known how long to hold it there regardless of how many cries for help George Floyd made or how many pleas from the horrified crowd that gathered before Floyd went limp and the life was snuffed out of him with his final cry: his dying declaration. He’s a police officer: I would be hard pressed to think he did not learn about choking and strangulation in the police academy. 

The issue is intent and what can be sold to the jury to get a conviction. In the moment that Derek Chauvin put his knee to George Floyd’s neck did he make a snap decision to keep it there long enough to kill him despite his cries that he could not breathe? If he did then perhaps the charge should be first degree murder because he killed him with mailce and intent. Let us just hope that he gets found guilty of the second degree charge because anything less is a slap in the face of justice for George Floyd and all the black men or any men who are betrayed by officers who “betray their badge”. 

Author: Sherri Margolin and Allison Margolin ESQ. (Dark Matters)

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