The death of George Floyd after a police officer pinned him to the ground for nearly nine minutes has sparked global outrage and widespread protests – with many pushing for change in the policing world and in attitudes towards people of colour. Now, former police officer, Derek Chauvin faces murder charges, with a lengthy trial beginning last week.
Chauvin, 45, kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes during the arrest on May 25, 2020, shortly after Floyd was accused of passing a fake $20 bill.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, which carries up to 40 years in prison, as well as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
He and the three other officers on the scene were fired the day after Floyd’s death.
In opening arguments, a prosecutor said Chauvin betrayed his badge “when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of George Floyd.”
Chauvin’s lawyers argued he was simply following training from his 19 years on the force and that the main cause of Floyd’s death, which the county examiner ruled a homicide caused by police restraints, was a drug overdose.
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Chauvin’s co-defendants, three fellow officers, are accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.
Chauvin’s trial began this week, after more than two weeks of jury selection.
The courtroom in a tower in downtown Minneapolis was ringed with concrete barriers, barbed wire and soldiers from the state’s National Guard.
For blocks around, businesses are closed and windows boarded up, fearing a repeat of the arson and other property damage that occurred after Floyd’s death.
Less than three miles away, residents maintain a vigil at the intersection where Chauvin kept his knee on a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes as Floyd uses his final breaths to plead for his life.
Chauvin and three other officers were arresting Floyd on suspicion of passing a fake $20 bill at the Cup Foods grocery store nearby.
Four sets of barricades block police from coming to the intersection, now called George Floyd Square, which is filled with flowers, posters, murals and other tributes to Floyd.
The jury, including three alternates, is made up of six white women, three white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.
Paris Stevens, a cousin of Floyd who works as a nurse in North Carolina, said in a telephone interview: “I’m thankful that it is a diverse jury. I’m very anxious because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m just glad that this process is starting.”
She and other relatives have been told by the court they must take turns in using a single chair reserved for Floyd’s family in the courtroom, which has been kitted out with plexiglass screens, hand-sanitiser stations and other anti-coronavirus measures.
Chauvin has also been allocated a single chair for his supporters, which has not been used by anyone since the trial began with jury selection on March 8 except for the occasional sheriff’s deputy overseeing security wanting to take the weight off his feet.
Legal experts have noted that US police officers have almost never been found criminally liable for killing a citizen.
Chauvin’s lawyers have said they will try to convince the jury that the fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, found in Floyd’s blood by the medical examiner played a bigger role in killing Floyd than the officer’s restraint.
Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist who joined the Floyd family at Sunday’s service, echoed prosecutors in calling this an “attempt to smear his name.”
On Monday morning outside the courthouse, Sharpton, Floyd’s relatives and local activists silently got down on one knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in a tribute to Floyd.