Story at a glance
- It has been 10 months since the death of George Floyd, which happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
- The police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes is currently on trial, facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
- So far the trial has taken an emotional toll on all involved, including witnesses to his death and jurors on the case.
On the third day of Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, a witness who saw the early moments of George Floyd’s arrest last Memorial Day broke down in tears while on the witness stand.
“Oh my god,” Charles B. McMillian said as he wiped tears from his face upon watching the emotional video of Floyd calling for his mother and saying “I can’t breathe.”
It has now been 10 months since the death of Floyd, who died in police custody after Chauvin sat with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Public outrage ensued after cell phone footage was posted by a witness, and protests sprang up across the country in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now, after Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, his trial is finally taking place. “At the end of the day, justice is a conviction,” Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told CNN.
Over the last three days, jurors have heard from 11 witnesses to Floyd's death, with several breaking down in tears while describing their attempts to intervene on his behalf that day in May. Tuesday’s witnesses included a firefighter, 911 dispatcher, a cashier working across the street, a mixed martial arts fighter, the teenager who recorded the now viral video of Floyd's death and her 9-year-old cousin.
Chauvin’s trial began on Monday with opening statements, as well as video footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck played by prosecuting attorney Jerry W. Blackwell.
“Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” Blackwell said. “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 deadly altercation began when Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for purchases at a Minneapolis corner store. When Floyd refused to pay, he was handcuffed and arrested by Chauvin and three other officers. According to USA Today, Floyd told police officers he couldn’t breathe more than 20 times during the almost nine minutes Chauvin held his knee to Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s death helped catapult the reinvigoration of a movement, but what happened to him that day is far from irregular. According to the Mapping Police Violence database, 1,127 people were killed by officers in 2020, and Black citizens are three times more likely to be killed, despite also being 1.3 times more unlikely to be unarmed.
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Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, blamed the shouting of witnesses for interfering with Chauvin’s ability to do his job. Despite this, Nelson also claims that Chauvin was doing his job correctly, saying that “the use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.”
One witness who recorded the viral video of Floyd’s death, 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, doesn’t agree with Nelson’s statements.
“It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she said. “But it’s not what I should have done. It’s what [Chauvin] should have done.”
The defense also tried to argue that Floyd was under the influence of drugs and that his death was caused by a drug overdose paired with complications from a heart condition.
Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, commented on the defense’s arguments. “They would find any way possible for this police officer to not look bad. But, the whole world saw what happened to him,” she told ABC News. “The drugs that they say they found in his system did not kill him… [it] was the pressure that was kneeled down in his neck. It’s not surprising to me, but one thing’s for sure. The world [has] seen how my brother left this world.”
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