Trial Underway in Minneapolis for Ex-Police Officer Accused in George Floyd’s Death
Photo by Kerem Yucel

Opening arguments have begun in the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder and other charges in the death of George Floyd last Memorial Day.

Floyd, 46, died in police custody on May 25, 2020. Viral cell phone video shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying on the ground, said “I can’t breathe,” and called out for his mother as Chauvin, 45, kept his hands in his pockets and did not render assistance.

Floyd’s grisly death sparked Black Lives Matter protests around the country and the world.  

Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter; he has pleaded not guilty. A jury was recently seated in the high profile case. The jury make-up reportedly has nine whites and six Black and/or multiracial people. Two jurors are alternates and one may be dismissed to bring the panel to 12.

Civil rights attorney, Ben Crump, said in a statement provided to ESSENCE that he hopes “justice will be swift and clear.”

“The moment has come for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable for the public hanging-style death of George Floyd,” said Crump. “The video, witnessed by millions of people around the world, makes this a very clear case. The only reason some people think this is a complicated case is because George Floyd was a Black man. If he had been white, no one would say his slow and painful death under Derek Chauvin’s knee was confusing in any way,” he said.

Crump, along with Antonio Romanucci, L. Chris Stewart and Jeff Storms, are among the co-counsel on behalf of Floyd’s family.

The civil legal team settled its legal action with Minneapolis for an historic $27 million earlier this month.

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“Since Mr. Floyd’s death less than one year ago, the City of Minneapolis has adopted sweeping police reforms, including use-of-force reporting, a requirement to keep body-worn cameras on, and a policy for officers to de-escalate non-threatening encounters by disengaging or walking away,” said attorney Antonio M. Romanucci.

Today, Floyd’s relatives, Rev. Al Sharpton, founder/President of the National Action Network, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and supporters held a vigil, kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds. On Sunday, they held a rally for justice at the Greater Friendship Missionary Church in Minneapolis.

In a statement, NAN said the organization is committed to fighting for justice for the Floyd family and rallying against the “repeated, currently sanctioned violence against Black people by police officers.”

“The entire world watched the lynching by knee of George Floyd by law enforcement officer Derek Chauvin as George repeatedly begged for mercy,” said Sharpton. “As the trial begins, we must reiterate that police lynchings will not be tolerated, and accountability by police must be the law of the land. We call on the Senate to act now to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing act to ensure that law enforcement everywhere is not above the law.”

Additionally, the lawyers and family urged Minnesota lawmakers to pass a bill that would strengthen the ability to hold officers accountable for their actions, should they behave outside the bounds of the law.  Attorneys believe the bill, which would revise a portion of the Minnesota State Statute, should be named The George Floyd Arbitration Reform Bill. It is part of an ongoing series of police reform measures that Minnesota and Minneapolis are considering in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“George Floyd’s family and those who loved him have endured unthinkable pain to get to this day. We are hopeful the jurors will let the irrefutable evidence in this case be their guide,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart. “Furthermore, we urge people in Minneapolis and everywhere to continue to voice their support for the Floyd family, but to do so in a peaceful manner.”

The trial is expected to last at least a month.