Apart from had they been able to try Lee Harvey Oswald (had Jack Ruby not dealt with matters summarily) for the assassination of John F Kennedy back in 1963, it is difficult to imagine a criminal trial that is likely to be as defining as that which will start later today in Minneapolis, Minnesota, North America. The trial of the man accused of being responsible for the death of George Floyd in May 2020 is about to commence and it is likely to be of seismic proportions.
When the case of ‘The People vs Derek Chauvin’ is called, suffice to say the eyes of the world will be fixated on what happens and unravels over the coming weeks.
Over the next month or so, a jury will require to consider, upon the evidence presented, whether Chauvin, the Police officer concerned used any ‘intent’ and is guilty of murder when he knelt on the neck of George Floyd during his arrest. He has entered pleas of not guilty to both murder and manslaughter (our culpable homicide). He is, in American legal terms, accused of ‘unintentional second degree murder and third degree murder’. Second degree murder is effectively when a person commits a ‘felony’ crime (a felony is a more substantial crime than a ‘misdemeanour). Third degree murder is effectively manslaughter and therefore our ‘culpable homicide’. It is arguably one of the most significant criminal trials in US history, especially as ‘race’ is the elephant in the room.
To put matters into perspective, the spot where he died has now become ‘George Floyd Square’, an area totally avoided by the Police and with emotions running high each day since last May. One can only imagine what the emotion will be like there today.
I blogged about the case last June and, for those interested, you can re-read that here :-
In that post I examined a long, dark history that was at the heart of this case and which America (like so many other countries) must face if real progress is ever to be made. Because there are plenty ‘Chauvins’ out there. Plenty. But something feels different about the Floyd case.
It is certainly hard to contemplate another such egregious violation of human rights when you watch that stomach churning footage of the accused kneeling on Floyd’s neck. However, as the matter is shortly about to become sub judice, specific detail and comment is inadvisable (and possibly illegal) but the US is at a racial crossroads and one can only imagine the repercussions, almost irrespective of the verdict. There is clearly deep distrust and fragility between the police and the community in that part of the country and perhaps it is time for a total rethink and overhaul of a system that many have seen as being there solely for the protection of Police whilst simultaneously being overtly discriminatory towards blacks.
The accused’s legal team will, you suspect, argue that he was ‘doing his job’ and in pursuit of tactics he learned from the Police Academy during training but this has become so much more than just about methods of restraint. Indeed, it has become so much more than the death of one man. The trial is likely to be an issue intrinsically of race, as much as ‘that’ one event.
The world wants to publicly see and hear for itself what America’s stance is in relation to accusations of police brutality and the treatment of its black community. And hear from the accused (defendant). It is very interesting to note that in an unprecedented move for the city concerned, three television cameras will be permitted to be in the courtroom and will live stream the entire trial globally. One of the three cameras will be trained on the accused throughout no doubt monitoring every sinew that he may strain and which will no doubt be accompanied by a forensic analysis by someone wheeled in by the network. Americans do seem to revel in this rather lurid form of television but perhaps the ‘live-streaming’ of proceedings is indicative of the global strength of feeling and the ‘necessity’ we feel at seeing for ourselves what is their answer to some very awkward questions.
With it all being beamed live for what is expected to be around 4 weeks, we will soon find out. It does feel that America, as much as Derek Chauvin, is on trial.