News

George Floyd’s murder trial against Derek Chauvin begins

CW: Police Brutality and Violence.

Former Minneapolis policeman, Derek Chauvin, “squeezed” the life out of George Floyd while arresting him last May, a prosecutor told jurors.

Opening statements in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd began on March 29 and are expected to last several days, while the trial itself is expected to last anywhere between two to four weeks.

During the high-profile trial this week, the jury was shown the heart-wrenching bystander video of the death of 46-year-old Floyd, who died while Chauvin was arresting him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Black Lives Matter Protest (Derek Chauvin)
Photo: Kerem Yucel via The Guardian

“Nine minutes and 29 seconds. That’s how long that went on,” prosecutor for the Minnesota Attorney-General’s office, Jerry Blackwell, said of the amount of time Chauvin spent with his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck.

In the video, Floyd moans and gasps for breath while handcuffed and pressed against the ground as bystanders urge Chauvin to stop.

“I can’t breathe,” Floyd said 27 times, according to Blackwell, before being loaded onto a stretcher by medics and taken to hospital, where he was later declared dead.

The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin, and the three other officers involved the day after the arrest.

A 19-year veteran of the police force, Chauvin is being charged with murder and manslaughter and faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge of second-degree murder.

Appearing in a grey suit and blue face mask, Chauvin pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

A conviction on any of the counts against Chauvin will require the jury to return a unanimous verdict.

The 14-member jury of five men and nine women watched while the video was played in a Minneapolis courtroom, as 45-year-old Chauvin sat at the defence table and took notes while the video of Floyd’s murder played.

Blackwell, who addressed the jury for nearly an hour, said that Chauvin was not following police procedure as officers who wore the Minneapolis police badge pledged never to use “unnecessary force or violence”.

“You will learn that on May 25, Mr Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of George Floyd,” he said.

“That he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath, no ladies and gentlemen, until the very life was squeezed out of him.”

The video of Floyd’s death sparked global outrage within the United States and across the globe, prompting numerous Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

In the two weeks of jury selection, many jurors told Hennepin County District Judge, Peter Cahill, that they recognised the scrutiny their deliberations would come under.

A brother of George Floyd, Philonise Floyd, said he had faith that Chauvin would be convicted.

“The video is the proof,” he said.

However, while Blackwell argued that Chauvin had violated police protocol, Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, said in his opening statement that the former officer was following his police training.

“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he was trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” Nelson told the jury.

“The use of force is not attractive but it is a necessary component of policing.”

Nelson also used his opening statement to touch upon Floyd’s drug use and blamed screaming bystanders as having caused “the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr Floyd”.

Civil rights lawyer and attorney for the Floyd family ahead of opening statements, Ben Crump, said that the trial marks a critical moment in how America interprets and enacts the meaning of “justice for all”.

“The whole world is watching,” he said.

“Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all.”

White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, also confirmed that President Joe Biden would be following the trial, along with millions of other Americans.

“He certainly will be watching closely, as Americans across the country will be watching,” she said.

“At the time of George Mr Floyd’s death, he talked about this as being an event that really opened up a wound in the American public.”

Crump also warned that Chauvin’s defence-attorney would attempt to assassinate Floyd’s character through the trial, and headed the jury to remember that what killed Floyd was the use of excessive force.

The jury is racially mixed – consisting of six white women, three black men, two white men, two mixed-race women and one black woman – who range in age from their 20s to their 60s and include a social worker, a chemist and an accountant.