Observations of an expat: The Trial

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Derek Chauvin, three other police officers, the rest of American policemen, law enforcement generally, the legal system, racism and racial justice are on trial in a Minneapolis courtroom.

First, the sketchy facts of the case. African-American George Floyd was arrested after allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Officer George Chauvin held him to the ground by pressing his knee against his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. By the time the ambulance arrived, George Floyd was dead.

Chauvin is charged with manslaughter, second degree murder and third degree murder. He faces the possibility of 40 years in prison.

George Floyd’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—sparked the worst race riots in American society and spilled over into 69 countries around the world. “Black Lives Matter” became the chant of an estimated 26 million protesters across the US. Ninety-three percent were classified as peaceful. But the ones that weren’t caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.

The Black Lives Matter riots were were seen by African-Americans as the culmination of centuries of brutal, legalised racism by American law enforcement. It started with slavery and extended through the Jim Crow era of indiscriminate lynchings and continued past the civil rights era.

African-Americans have fought back. The 4 April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr by Earl Ray sparked off what was dubbed the “Holy Week Riots” In 110 American cities. In 1992 four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted over using “excessive force” in the beating of African-American Rodney King. The riots that followed left 2,383 arrested, 12,000 injured and 63 dead as well as causing $1billion worth of damage.

The fatal shooting of 18-year Michael Brown by policeman Darren Wilson in October 2014 led to years of simmering and at times explosive violence in Ferguson, Missouri, mainly because Wilson never stood trial. The Ferguson Riots saw the emergence of the right-wing militia group the Oath Keepers who maintained rooftop patrols during the disturbances. A Department of Justice investigation determined that the local police force had engaged in systematic misconduct against the local African-American community.

The motto of American police is “To Serve and Protect.” African-Americans ask: to serve and protect whom? They don’t believe it is them. George Floyd was one of 765 Americans killed as a result of police action 2020. Twenty-eight percent of them were Black. African-Americans comprised 14 percent of the total US population.

Being killed by a policeman is the sixth most likely cause of death for African-American men. One third of American jailbirds are Black. By the way, America makes up five percent of the world population and 21 percent of the world prison population.

Another disturbing trend is growing links between White supremacist militias and the police and military. There are estimated to be over 70 active militia groups in the US. The FBI has reported that the greatest threat to American security and democratic values is from the far right. Of the more than 400 people arrested as a result of the Capitol Hill Riots 50 were connected to the military and law enforcement, and the most serious charges are being levelled at that group.

One of the reasons for Black anger is that the police are largely protected from prosecution by something called “Qualified Immunity”. Under this 1871 law the prosecution has to prove a link between the crime on trial and a clear precedent. As each case is different, it is almost impossible to draw a connection that satisfies the courts. As a result, between 2005 and 2020, only five policemen were convicted of murder.

The identity of the 12 jurors and two alternates in the Chauvin/Floyd case are secret. They are hidden from public view and sequestered every night at an undisclosed location. Judge Peter Cahill has a police guard. They are targets of both White Supremacists and Black activists, and rest assured the trial’s outcome will leave one of these two groups dissatisfied, with predictable results.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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6 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 2nd Apr '21 - 5:42pm

    I have been watching the live court proceedings and I think it is already clear that it is quite possible that the jury could decide not to convict on any of the charges. The body cam footage shows that George Floyd first used the phrase “I can’t breathe” when he was first pushed into the back seat of the police car when there were no restrictions to his breathing and no one was touching his neck – a jury member could easily believe that the statement was not true at that time so the fact he said it later on the ground may also not have been true. The body cams also show that the reason George Floyd found himself restrained in the ground was because he was able to force himself out of the car against the combined efforts of three police officers. We have not heard the defence case yet but from opening statements it is clear that they intend to argue that his death was due to him having swallowed drugs to avoid being caught with them in his possession, while already under the influence of drugs and on top of preexisting health conditions. All it takes is for a couple of jurors to have doubts and a not guilty verdict is possible.

    I am very concerned that a not guilty verdict may lead to even more rioting and violence.

  • John Marriott 2nd Apr '21 - 6:05pm

    Yes, Brad. Me too.

  • Tony Harris 3rd Apr '21 - 7:37am

    An excellent article and useful backgrounder. I will look to the outcome of the case with interest.

  • @ Brad and John. Because of my liberal values/bias I confess to learning towards the prosecution, but I try to withhold judgement until the final summing up.
    @Tony and everyone else. Thanks very much for the kind words and support. It is very much appreciated. If you do find my articles please tell others. It means more readers for Lib Dem Voice which means more advertising revenues which means more money in the party coffers which means more seats on local councils and in parliament.

  • Charles Smith 3rd Apr '21 - 9:51pm

    A former Minneapolis police supervisor, on duty the night George Floyd died, says officers could have stopped restraining him after he was handcuffed and no longer resisting.

    That testimony from David Pleoger, now retired, was a key part of the prosecution’s case on the fourth day of the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. It included a snippet of a call between Pleoger and Chauvin — in which Chauvin says he was going to call Pleoger and request that he come to the scene where Chauvin and three other officers had had their encounter with Floyd.
    https://worldabcnews.com/police-could-have-ended-george-floyds-restraint-after-he-was-handcuffed-former-sergeant-testifies/

  • Paul Fisher 5th Apr '21 - 7:58pm

    This all about racism; a country that was born in genocide and slavery finds it difficult to shake off its institutional roots. The real lesson though is for the UK; the creators of this nation. I see no reason for complacency in Little England.

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