2 April 2021 concluded the first week of powerful and emotional testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial which is currently taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin, now an ex-police officer, currently pleads not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges for his involvement in the arrest that ended the life of George Floyd in May 2020.
Chauvin and several other officers responded to a call alleging that Floyd used a counterfeit US$ 20 bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes. Millions viewed the bystander video depicting Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for just under 10 minutes, sparking outcry and protests around the globe. Floyd’s death also brought attention back to the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted discussions surrounding police brutality and institutional racism.
Last week, the highly anticipated trial of Derek Chauvin began with both the prosecution and defence demanding justice. Witnesses and police officers alike provided powerful and deeply moving testimony to the events that took place last spring.
It was reported in court last week that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for longer than initially believed at almost nine and a half minutes. Several witnesses testified that Chauvin ignored their pleas for mercy and kept his knee planted on Floyd’s neck even after handcuffing him. Video evidence corroborates these claims as well as allegations that Chauvin would not relinquish his hold on Floyd though the latter was acting non-aggressively and had lost consciousness. A few witnesses broke down on the stand, claiming that they wanted to do more to aid Floyd but felt helpless and unable to intervene between him and the officers.
Two of the paramedics who arrived on the scene after Floyd had lost consciousness also testified in court. Derek Smith, one of the paramedics, stated that Chauvin was still kneeling on Floyd’s neck at the time of his arrival. Smith allegedly had to gesture to the officer to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck in order to take the man’s pulse. Video shows that Smith gestured to Chauvin to get off of Floyd so that Smith and his partner Seth Bravinder could load Floyd into an ambulance. The jury was also shown graphic images of Floyd’s limp form being lifted onto a stretcher and into an ambulance where both Smith and Bravinder attempted a resuscitation.
Additionally, the court heard the testimony of the police force’s longest-serving member, Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman. Now leading the department’s homicide unit, Zimmerman heavily criticised Chauvin’s behavior that day. He described Chauvin and the other two now-fired police officers’ actions as “totally unnecessary” because he saw no logical reason as to why they believed to be in danger from Floyd, especially after he was handcuffed. He stated Chauvin’s actions were a display of “top-tier deadly force” and Zimmerman claimed he had never been taught the restraining tactic during any training session throughout his career. While it is not uncommon for police officers to testify in a court of law, Zimmerman’s testimony carries a particular amount of weight. Such strong condemnation from a respected member of the force does not bode well for Chauvin’s defence.
The first-hand accounts from witnesses, paramedics, and a seasoned police officer opened up the first week of a trial anticipated by many for almost a year. The statements made in court the other week have set the precedent that this trial will be an emotional and powerful one for people around the world. While everyone waits for justice to have her say, there is no doubt that the outcome of the case will heavily impact discussions regarding racism, police brutality, and change for a long time to come.