Opening statements will be made on March 29 in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd in May 2020. The trial for the case, which was filed in the Hennepin County District Court on May 29, 2020, began on March 8.
While Chauvin had been held at a maximum security prison in Minnesota since May 2020, he was provided conditional bail for $1 million in October, and was asked to surrender his firearms and not work in law enforcement till his trial was finished.
The trial is significant, since it is uncommon for police officers to be penalised for using lethal force in the US.
What are the charges against Derek Chauvin?
Chauvin is the first police officer out of the four involved in the case to be tried, and faces the most severe charges, which include manslaughter and second-degree murder. The other three officers are Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng.
Second degree murder means murder that is not premeditated, “or murder that is caused by the offender’s reckless conduct that displays an obvious lack of concern for human life.” Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second degree murder that carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.
Manslaughter, on the other hand, refers to the unlawful killing of an individual without malice and can be classified into voluntary (in the heat of the moment) and involuntary manslaughter.
In Chauvin’s case, he has been charged with second degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of not more than 10 years or payment of a fine of not more than $20,000 or both. So far, Chauvin has pleaded not guilty.
Significantly, in a first for the state of Minnesota (where the trial is taking place) the trial will be recorded and broadcast live for the general public.
What is the George Floyd case?
On May 25, 2020 a 46-year-old black man died after Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck. The allegation against Floyd was related to his passing a counterfeit bill. A 911 call was made on May 25 by someone who reported that a man bought merchandise from Cup Foods in Minneapolis and presented a $20 counterfeit bill.
After this, some officers from the Minneapolis Police Department arrived at the spot and as they struggled to take Floyd in the backseat of their squad car, Chauvin put his left knee on his neck, which eventually led to his death.
The autopsy carried out by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner revealed that the effect of Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd, along with his underlying health conditions, (arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease) and the presence of drugs (his toxicology report revealed the presence of fentanyl and evidence of recent methamphetamine use) “contributed to his death”.
The medical examiner listed the cause of death as “‘[c]ardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,’ and concluded that the manner of death was homicide.”
“The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous. Officer Chauvin’s restraint of Mr. Floyd in this manner for a prolonged period was a substantial causal factor in Mr. Floyd losing consciousness, constituting substantial bodily harm, and Mr. Floyd’s death as well,” the complaint against Chauvin states.
A statement issued by the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) following this incident said, “There is no known police technique that any of our members, with literally thousands of years of law enforcement experience, are aware of that justifies Officer Derek Chauvin holding his knee on the throat of Mr. Floyd and ignoring the distress calls from him indicating that he could not breathe.”
Floyd’s death led to protests, mostly under the “Black Lives Matter” movement, across the world.
A demand for renaming military bases named after Confederate generals also sprung from these protests, while on the other hand many American labels such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Eskimo Pie, and Cream of Wheat pledged to rebrand their symbols that were criticised for having racist undertones.
Other recent cases of police excess on Black Americans
Other deaths involving the police force using excessive force against Black Americans include the 2016 killing of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old man who was shot seven times at close range during a traffic stop, also in Minnesota, just after he had informed the police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, that he was carrying a gun. Yanez was acquitted of all charges in 2017. The incident became viral after Castile’s girlfriend streamed part of it on Facebook.
Another incident from 2016 that caused a furore was when police pinned to the ground and shot 37-year-old Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in Louisiana where he was selling CDs.
Another case is the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot dead by local police officers in her home in March 2020 during what the police claim was a mistaken drug raid.