The real heroes of a historic decision
Many doubt that Derek Chauvin would have been correctly charged with murdering George Floyd or eventually convicted of the crime had it not been for the intervention of the Minnesota Attorney General’s office. As a result, Attorney General Keith Ellison has been hailed as a legal hero. However, Ellison is quick to point out that there are many individuals who played an important role in the Chauvin trial.
The state’s first Black attorney general told the MSR that, besides the 12-person jury, there are others who deserve recognition. “Because of [Darnella] Frazier, people like [prosecution witnesses] Donald Williams, Mr. [Charles] McMillian, Alyssa Funari…regular folk. None of them knew George Floyd, minding their own business, and a fellow human being was being treated in an inhumane way that was causing him to lose his life in front of them.
“They challenged law enforcement, and they couldn’t do anything,” continued Ellison. “Then they came and testified, which is also very hard. Two [witnesses] were still minors and the other two just slightly older. They are the real heroes.”
Since last week’s guilty verdict, many point to Frazier’s smartphone video as the key turning point in the trial—without it, the case might not have happened. The then-17-year-old Frazier captured the final few minutes of Floyd’s life on her phone and posted it on social media.
“It was a historic and it was a courageous thing that she did,” stated the Minnesota AG of Frazier, who also was a prosecution witness. “She was just walking to the store to buy snacks…but she saw an appalling situation. The only thing she could do, she whipped out her [phone]…and the results energized a worldwide movement.
“Bless that young lady,” said Ellison. “I hope very good things come her way. I hope that she becomes a filmmaker, because it was her video that really rocked the world. She’s talented, smart, [and] composed herself very well on the witness stand, only 18 years old.”
Ellison also gave credit to his prosecution team: “We needed somebody who had a passion and dedication, people who [had] technical expertise beyond my staff.”
The team, which consisted of a total of 13 lawyers and a jury consultant, included Jerry Blackwell, a local civil rights lawyer; Steve Schleicher, an experienced trial attorney and prosecutor who also worked 13 years in the U.S. attorney office; and assistant state attorney generals Erin Eldridge and Matthew Frank.
Ellison also acknowledged the expertise of the medical expert witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution. Of particular note was Dr. Martin Tobin, who refuted the defense’s argument that Floyd died because of drugs in his system or underlying health problems. He said that Floyd died because he could not get enough air into his lungs while he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground.
“We’re not supposed to bring in evidence [that] says the same thing,” explained Ellison. “They were supposed to build on and complement each other. They were the key to success.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, bowing to public pressure, appointed Ellison to handle the prosecution shortly after Floyd’s death. “Maybe people now understand why I left Congress [to run for attorney general]. A lot of my friends said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ They thought I was crazy,” recalled the former state and U.S. Congressional Representative.
“The real front line of the work of justice is at the state level. I wanted to be on the front line
“I love this country. I am a very patriotic person. And what that means for me is to help this country be the best it can be. In the area of policing, our country has never had a relationship [with its Black communities].
“I’m not really a politician… I’m actually just a humble civil rights worker. I have a law degree, so I use that,” he continued. “People have entrusted me with being elected [to his present office].”
Ellison reaffirmed that the work isn’t done and everyone seeking change must keep demanding it through peaceful protests and other means. “We need to pass the George Floyd policing [bill]. We need to write letters to the people who represent them in Congress, and they also need to write the state legislators to get better.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.