Like many of the readers of these words, I spent last week consumed by the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Chauvin is the former Minneapolis Police Officer who has been charged with the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was Black. Chauvin is White. The incident sparked an international wave of protest and “racial reckoning.” To the average lay person, the viral video of Chauvin’s White knee perched upon Floyd’s Black neck was all the evidence that was needed to prove a police murder. The opening week in the prosecution’s case only cemented this reality for many. The systematic presentation of the case seemed to slow everything down like a professional football game time review. I am more certain, to date, that Chauvin killed Floyd.
Last week I watched George Floyd die from many camera angles and many different perspectives. We also learned that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck longer than the original eight minutes and forty-nine seconds. Based on the prosecution’s showing of the infamous video, Chauvin pressed Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. If we are timing the duration of George Floyd’s torture based on the young seventeen years old girl’s video, I believe Chauvin was on his neck much longer than ten minutes. For example, from surveillance footage we see three officers already on top of Floyd before the young girl arrives on the scene. From this angle you can see Chauvin on Floyd’s neck while the young girl and her cousin are down the street walking towards Cup Foods where the incident took place outside. In the surveillance video the girl comes upon the incident, slows down to watch, goes on to take her cousin inside the store, and then returns to pull out her cell phone to record. It was Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck that caused the young girl to come back and start filming. In a larger sense, God sent an angel that day. If God’s angel had not filmed the incident, Floyd would have been murdered and blamed for his own death with little to no investigation. However, as of this writing, the jury still must render a verdict. For all my certainty that Chauvin killed George Floyd; for all the certainty with which the eyewitnesses have spoken; and the certainty with which fellow law enforcement officers have spoken; I come to a pause when I think about the jury. The Rodney King beating was filmed. The world saw it. Nevertheless, the officers were acquitted. They were found to be not guilty. We heard George Zimmerman plot on Trayvon Martin. Martin was the person attempting self-defense after being accosted by this strange older man. Yet, Martin was put on trial. The rest is history. Zimmerman got away with murder. Eric Gardner was on film. His was the original supplication of “I can’t breathe.” Yet, the Gardner slaying did not even make it to trial. The killing of Michael Brown did not even make it to trial. The killing of Breonna Taylor did not even make it to trial. The D.A.’s in both cases made sure that would be no trial. Therefore, my certainty is tempered with the reality that this jury could come back with a verdict of not guilty.
Watching the Chauvin trial, I could not help but think about Ida B. Wells. Despite her gallant efforts, George Floyd was lynched in broad daylight on a city street corner in front of a busy corner store. Watching this trial, I can’t help but think about Billie Holiday and the song “Strange Fruit.” The movie portrayal Holiday’s life by Andre Day brought Billie Holiday to life. I think about the Anti-Lynching legislation that cannot seem to become a law. I think about all those still black and white photographs of Blacks hanging from tree limbs by the neck. I think about January 6, 2021 when a noose bearing gallows was constructed at the nation’s Capital Building. I think about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama and wonder if a block with George Floyd’s name on it can be added?
Even though I realize a possible verdict of not guilty, I take solace and hope in knowing that the police officers who killed Malice Green in Detroit were found guilty. The police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back as he fled was found guilty. Therefore, it may be rare, but it is possible for a police officer to be brought to justice. When John Madden was a sports announcer, he came up with the famous equation “One knee equals three feet.” Today we have regressed and are grappling with what happened last May 25, 2020 when a knee became a noose. Like Marvin Gaye, it makes we want to “holla!” These things supplant my dreams with primal screams.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it.