The Derek Chauvin Trial and its Relation to Police Brutality in the United States
George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old African American man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020. After paying with a counterfeit $20 bill, a store clerk called the police, who arrived on the scene and detained Floyd. Among the officers were Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Floyd resisted entering the police car, pleading with the officers that he was claustrophobic. He was then pressed face down on the ground and handcuffed. In a video taken by witnesses at the scene, Officer Derek Chauvin is seen kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Before losing consciousness, Floyd can be heard telling the officers, “I can’t breathe.” This is yet another example that follows the disturbing trend of white police officers utilizing excessive force against African Americans in the United States.
George Floyd’s death spurred massive outrage across the country, leading to peaceful protests and riots alike in many major cities. The Black Lives Matter movement was also brought to the forefront - a protest to police brutality and racism throughout the United States.
Derek Chauvin was charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The trial was broadcast live and amassed a large number of viewers.
In the trial, the prosecution argued that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck had cut off Floyd’s air supply and caused him to die due to low oxygen. Chauvin’s defense argued that a myriad of other factors had caused Floyd’s death, such as his enlarged heart, fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, and possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical examiner Dr. Andrew Baker testified that Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest that was a direct result of Chauvin’s restraint and neck compression. Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Rich also attested that Floyd’s death was due to low oxygen levels. After a 10-hour deliberation over the course of two days, Chauvin was found guilty on all accounts and will await sentencing behind bars until June 25th.
The verdict has been a huge stepping stone in the progress of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, despite more accountability being shown for police officers, the problem of excessive force against African Americans is far from over. The Sunday before the last week of testimony in the Floyd trial, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was fatally shot by Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop. She claimed to have mistaken her gun for a taser - despite having 20 years of experience - and resigned immediately. She has since been charged with second-degree manslaughter and awaits trial.
Despite being only 20 years old, Daunte Wright was already a loving father to his two-year-old son. His family loved him dearly, including his siblings, mother, and aunt. Naisha Wright, his aunt, described him as a “lovable young man” with a radiant smile. Daunte attended three high schools during his teenage years. At one, he was voted “class clown”. His mentor, Mr. Mason, described him as a “charismatic kid… [who] would joke with you, and he was so witty.” Daunte was also a talented basketball player in high school. Now, his son will have to play basketball without him, and remember the loss of a father whenever he looks to the bleachers and sees an empty space.
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in her apartment when caught in the crossfire between the officers and her boyfriend. They were investigating two men selling drugs and believed Taylor’s apartment had been used to receive packages. With a no-knock warrant, they entered Taylor’s apartment unannounced shortly after midnight. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired once at the officers when they broke down the door. He shot Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh. The officers then opened fire, killing Breonna Taylor in the reckless brigade of bullets. Taylor was shot five times. No one has been charged for her death.
Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT. Those she was close to called her “Bre”. She would have turned 27 the Friday after her death. She loved to sing, play games, cook, and check up on friends. She was part of a large, tight knit family who loved her dearly. Breonna was drawn to a career in health care because she cared about people and wanted to make a difference. She posted on Facebook last year: “Working in health care is so rewarding. It makes me feel so happy when I know I've made a difference in someone else's life. I'm so appreciative of all the staff that has helped my uncle throughout this difficult time and those that will continue to make a difference in his life.” At only 26, Breonna had most of her life still ahead of her. Perhaps she would have been a loving and nurturing mother, if she only had more time.
We are a nation founded on racism and oppression of African Americans. When slavery ended, jail became the new plantation and racially profiled black men and women were locked behind bars by the dozens. Throughout history, police brutality has been a prevalent and endless issue; there are images dating back to the Civil Rights Movement of African Americans being hit with the force of fire hoses or savaged by police dogs. It is no coincidence that unarmed black men and women are being killed by law enforcement; they die at the hands of a system that is, and always has been, inherently racist. The people who are supposed to protect the entire population continue to target and act on impulse against members of the African American community. It is undeniable: white protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol armed with guns and the intention to harm, yet were met with little to no resistance from law enforcement. A black child playing with a water gun in the park was shot and killed.
These are not nameless faces. They are not martyrs for the BLM movement. They are not patron saints who did no wrong, but they are not all dangerous criminals, either. These are people who have been failed by the justice system in this country and have been given the death sentence by one man and his gun. These are people with lives and families who loved them. Children who never got to grow up. Parents who never got to see their children grow up. These are people who were imperfect, some with broken families, some with hardened lives. Some who just wanted to wake up for work the next day. Time and time again, year after year, the African American population has been singled out and fatally prejudiced by a broken system.
George Floyd was a star basketball and football player in high school. As a kid, he had dreams of touching the world and possibly playing in the NBA. Friends referred to him as “Big Floyd” for both his tall stature and big personality. He was known as a humorous and light-hearted kid growing up. He grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston where he was the first of his siblings to attend college. After leaving college without a degree, he struggled with drug use over the course of nearly a decade. After spending four years in prison for armed robbery, George began the difficult journey of turning his life around. He became dedicated to the church and to his daughter, Gianna, born after he was released from prison. He became involved with a Christian program that provided men with rehabilitation and job placement services. He also took a job as a security guard at a homeless shelter and transitional housing facility where he was known to walk his coworkers to their cars to keep them safe. One of the most important people in his life was his mother; he had her name tattooed across his stomach. In his dying moments, he can be heard calling out for his mother, although she had died two years earlier.
George Floyd was a man who loved his daughter, his siblings, and most of all, his mom. He was a man who struggled with substance abuse, but chose to overcome it. He was a man who found himself on the wrong side of the law more than once, but a man who nonetheless was loved and admired by those who knew him. He was compassionate and humorous with a flamboyant personality.
The trial of Derek Chauvin is only the first step in a long journey of overcoming police brutality and racism in this country.