Minneapolis: Trial begins for officer Derek Chauvin accused of murder
Opening arguments began Monday for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd, the unarmed Black man whose death at the hands of law enforcement last May sparked a nationwide reckoning over institutionalized racism and police brutality. 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.”
Americans across the country watched the agonizing video of Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life in handcuffs, an eyewitness account expected to play an outsize role in the prosecution’s argument.
In Blackwell’s opening arguments, Blackwell told the jury that the prosecution would call some of the witnesses to Floyd’s arrest — “a veritable bouquet of humanity,” as he described them—as witnesses.
Those on the scene tried to stop Chauvin, Blackwell said, and, when that didn’t work, took out their cameras. “Such that it would be memorialized; such that it would not be misrepresented; such that it could not be forgotten.”
Blackwell laid out the timeline for the jury of the “excessive and unreasonable force” used against Floyd, walking them through what they were about to see before playing the graphic video.
“You will hear his words get further apart” as Floyd tells Chauvin and three other officers he could not breathe, and “you will be able to see for yourself what [Chauvin] does in this response. You’ll see that he does not let up. He does not get up. Even when Mr. Floyd does not even have a pulse, it continues,” Blackwell said.
“It’s murder. You can believe your eyes.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson appeared to challenge that directive during his subsequent opening remarks, telling the jury, “I suggest that you let common sense and reason guide you.”
Chauvin’s criminal trial will be broadcasted live in its entirety—a first for the state of Minnesota, prompted by pandemic-imposed attendance restrictions.
It is expected to be the “biggest trial of the streaming age,” CNN’s Brian Stelter reports, airing on streaming-first services such as Law & Crime as well as various media outlets.
Jury selection in the trial was also filmed live. The entrée into the courtroom offers the public access in line with the stunning visibility of Floyd’s death: final moments captured in broad daylight, on a street corner where Floyd, smothered under Chauvin’s knee, brought the national conversation to a head.
“Angered by what they saw, protesters worldwide said it was time to end racial injustice. Now cameras will let them see the justice system in real-time,” said the BBC’s Joshua Nevett, via three TV cameras—including one trained directly on Chauvin—that Court TV, the network boasting “gavel-to-gavel coverage,” will use to stream live from the courtroom.
“The public is watching for signs that police officers can be held accountable when someone dies in their custody,” the Guardian wrote.
The televised event will focus largely on the cause of death and Chauvin’s intent during the assault, rather than Floyd’s behavior or state of mind that day, according to CNN.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to all three charges against him: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The official autopsy concluded that Floyd’s death was caused by heart failure due to “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and categorized it as a homicide.
But Chauvin’s defense team is expected to argue that the true cause of death was, as the medical examiner’s report wrote, “other significant conditions” such as the opioid fentanyl found in Floyd’s system and underlying health problems.
CNN’s Laura Coates reports that Minnesota prosecutors do not need to prove that Chauvin’s kneeling was the only cause of Floyd’s death—just that it “was a ‘substantial causal factor’ in causing his death. The fact that other causes MAY have contributed to the death DOES NOT exonerate Chauvin,” she wrote on Twitter.
Defense attorneys on Monday described a chaotic scene that videos of the arrest failed to capture, with Nelson going so far as to suggest that bystanders who yelled at officers to get off of Floyd are somehow culpable.
The crowd, Nelson argued, caused police “to divert the attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat growing in front of them.”
Outside of the courtroom earlier that morning, Reverend Al Sharpton seemed to anticipate this kind of logic. “We are here to see the case of a man that used his knee to lynch a man and then blame the man for the lynching,” he said.
“Make no mistake about it: Chauvin is in the courtroom, but America is on trial.”
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