Written by Joey Slusher
2020 was a year full of turmoil. So much so that many of us forget particular headlines and moments which, in any other year, would have dominated the new cycle for weeks. For example, prior to their recent interview, many Americans had all but forgotten the news of Meghan Markle and Princes Harry’s departure from the U.K.’s Royal family.
A piece of news which we all are unlikely to forget, which will surely stand out in many people’s memories of this past year, will be that of the death of Mr. George Floyd. Floyd was a 46 year old black man who was killed on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota as the result of an extremely unorthodox law enforcement encounter.
Floyd was in the process of being arrested by the Minneapolis Police when he began to complain of difficulty breathing and began to resist, according to the arresting officers. Officer Derek Chauvin forced Floyd onto the ground and began to kneel on Floyd’s neck for a total of nine minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Investigators now believe that Floyd died at the scene of his arrest, with Chauvin baring much of the blame for the murder due to the fact that he had his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck and refused to allow emergency medical personnel to administer aid at the scene.
As we know, Floyd’s death spurred millions to the streets in acts of protest against police brutality, police accountability, and systemic racism. These protests, often under the banners of Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police, spanned the whole of the summer of 2020 and crossed international boundaries.
Since the initial incidents, two autopsies have argued that Floyd was killed in a homicide. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s trial began nine days ago, on March 31, 2021.
Since then, numerous facts about Floyd’s death which happened last May have been established. First, it was stated by paramedics that Floyd had died prior to their arrival on scene. The issue of Floyd’s drug use became a key fact for both sides, as toxicology reports have shown that Floyd had trace amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system. Chauvin’s defense attempted to show that this contributed to his death, while the prosecution tried to argue that due to the fact that Floyd had developed a high tolerance to the drugs through past use, those trace amounts likely would not have caused an overdose. Later in the trial, in a review of a tape of the incident, Special Agent James Reyerson would state that Mr. Floyd audibly says, “I ain’t do no drugs,” which had been misheard prior to this as, “I ate too many drugs”.
Numerous experts on the use of force in policing were called to the witness stand by the prosecution. All of them confirmed that Chauvin actively went against protocol by using an extreme amount of force and by keeping Mr. Floyd on the ground in that position for as long as he did. One expert stated that someone with their hands cuffed behind their backs should be removed from the ground, “as soon as possible,” as that position can block a person’s breathing. Another expert specifically stated that at no point should Chauvin have had his knee on Floyd’s neck, as this move is not in any training in the use of force for officers.
Sergeant Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department Inspector General’s Office said specifically that Chauvin put Floyd “at risk of asphyxia,” and that when he was on the ground, no force was necessary. Once on the ground, Floyd cannot be seen resisting the officers, something confirmed by video evidence of the incident. One expert argued that Chauvin could have tasered Floyd when he had initially resisted their attempts to put him in the squad car.
The trial will continue in the coming days and weeks, as both sides attempt to argue in their favor and elucidate the facts. You can expect further coverage here and in media outlets across the globe, as these facts and more come forth throughout this historic trial.