It was previously believed that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. During opening statements of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, the state prosecution team made clear that Chauvin actually kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. This was not a split-second decision on Chauvin’s part. He did not fear for his safety. This was torture, as evidenced by the smug look on Chauvin’s face at the time and the fact that he even appeared to bounce on Mr. Floyd’s neck as bystanders pleaded with him to release Floyd.
Chauvin’s defense team plans to present evidence that he acted within the scope of the training that he received through the Minneapolis Police Department. In other words, his defense lawyers will argue that he was trained to subdue criminal suspects using the dangerous technique that he used on Mr. Floyd. The prosecution team has made clear that they plan to refute Chauvin’s assertion by calling Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo to the stand. The Chief will likely testify that Chauvin did not act in accordance with departmental training or protocols when he pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for a grueling 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
During opening statements, Chauvin’s defense team attempted to cast blame on bystanders who were present during the deadly encounter; claiming that the crowd grew increasingly large and angry, and called officers bad names. Defense counsel claimed that the behavior of the bystanders diverted the attention of the officers away from Mr. Floyd.
Two bystanders testified about what they witnessed and/or documented regarding Chauvin and the other three officers’ conduct who aided and abetted Chauvin. It is important to keep in mind that bystanders were attempting to stop the police from murdering a Black man in broad daylight. Were it not for the bystander video the world might not know what really happened to Mr. Floyd. The crowd of bystanders exercised a great deal of restraint by trying to reason with the officers, rather than getting physical.
Both the prosecution team and the defense alluded to the fact that there will likely be dueling medical expert testimony regarding the exact cause of death of Mr. Floyd. It is likely that multiple doctors will testify during the trial, as expert witnesses. Prosecutors will use medical testimony in an attempt to show that even with drugs in Mr. Floyd’s system, and his pre-existing medical conditions, the cause of his death was Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
Defense attorneys will attempt to use medical evidence to infer that Mr. Floyd’s consumption of fentanyl and other alleged substances, coupled with an underlying heart issue, and a (bogus) medical condition called “excited delirium” are responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death, and not Chauvin’s knee.
The defense team will attempt to put Mr. Floyd on trial and argue that he is responsible for his own death. Defense attorneys have already made note of Mr. Floyd’s weight and height, in comparison with Chauvin’s weight and height. They will claim that Mr. Floyd injured his own nose (which was bleeding) and body as a result of a struggle with officers in the backseat of a squad car. They will also argue that Mr. Floyd refused to follow officers’ orders from the moment they encountered him in his vehicle. They will argue that he resisted arrest and that officers used the level of force reasonably necessary to subdue him.
Now of course, no reasonable police officer would draw a weapon on a person and use deadly force because of their use of an alleged counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
Cup Foods had no business calling police over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill and could have identified a more humane and appropriate way to address the situation. It is not a secret that Minneapolis Police have a reputation for engaging in excessive force, deadly force, over-criminalization of Black residents, and harassment of those they deem to be “undesirables.”
Once Cup Foods made the unwise decision to call Minneapolis Police, the call should have been de-prioritized in light of the more serious crimes taking place in the city. And it certainly should not have taken five officers to come upon the scene for such a minor infraction that should have resulted in a warning, at best, or a citation at worst.
Instead, the 911 call, in this case, became a death sentence for an unarmed Black man and father who pleaded with officers for his life and called out to his mother for comfort and relief. From where I sit, this trial is a formality.
We all saw what happened. We all know why it happened. Derek Chauvin must be held accountable under the law for the murder of Mr. Floyd.
Nekima Levy Armstrong is a civil rights attorney, former law professor, activist, legal scholar, and national racial justice expert. She is the founder and owner of Levy Armstrong, PLLC Law Firm & Black Pearl, LLC Consulting. In 2017, she was named 100 People to Know by Twin Cities Business. In 2016, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Governor’s Commission on Martin Luther King Day. In 2015, she was named one of “40 Under 40” by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. In 2014, she was named a “Minnesota Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer and recognized as one of “50 Under 50 Most Influential Law Professors of Color in the Country” by Lawyers of Color Magazine.