For almost a year, former police officer Derek Chauvin has evaded the public eye after the killing of George Floyd. Now—nearly ten months after Floyd’s death—all eyes are on Chauvin’s murder trial, which began on Monday, March 29. For many, Floyd’s death is a reminder of the systemic racism in policing that persists in modern-day America.
On May 25, 2020, after being taken into police custody for using counterfeit money at a local Cup Foods, a disturbing cell phone video shows Floyd being pinned to the ground by Chauvin. For about nine minutes, Chauvin has his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck; in the video, viewers see a handcuffed Floyd repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” before going unconscious. He died in a hospital later that day.
Floyd’s death was a catalyst for national and global protests, which called attention to the need for reforming police brutality. Despite the peaceful turned violent approach of the protests themselves, the #BlackLivesMatter movement changed the way we view and understand race. From flags and statues to stances of corporations, the protests invoked change that brought along the possibility of real police reform and long overdue reparations to the Black American community.
Chauvin faces charges of second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter in trial. Expected to last three weeks, the first week wrapped up with opening statements and key testimonies from witnesses.
Key Quotes from Week One:
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell: Chauvin “betrayed his badge” by digging his knee into Floyd’s neck “until the very life was squeezed out of him.”
Christopher Martin (Cup Foods clerk): regrets telling his manager about the fake $20 bill which led to Floyd being taken into custody and his subsequent death.
Darnella (filmed Floyd’s murder on phone): “I stayed up [at night] apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting, not saving his life.”
Donald Williams II (witness/mixed martial arts fighter): described Chauvin’s hold on Floyd as a “blood choke”, “His breathing was getting tremendously heavy….You actually could hear him, you could see him struggling to actually gasp for air.”
Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman (last to testify this week, highest-ranking officer at Minneapolis Police Department): Zimmerman explains force put on Floyd was “totally unnecessary.”
The first week of this trial puts the severity of Chauvin’s actions into perspective. Furthermore, the early testimonies expose the trauma that the witnesses have carried since last May. The clear emotional impact highlights the repercussions that racially-motivated violence can have on families, friends, witnesses and any other parties involved.
Looking back at 2020 and 2021, we’ve seen history being made. Pairing Floyd’s death with the recent uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes, these past two years show an increase in racially-motivated crimes. While these crimes were spurred by different motives, race is a common factor, and it is devastating to see a world that is still divided by race. Though it is possible that we may never live in a world that is fully accepting of all races/ethnicities, awareness from younger generations and motivation for change are steps in the right direction.