Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Steven Ivory: The State vs. Chauvin: Theatre of the Absurd

*O.J. did it.  I don’t know that for sure, but depending on how you view the evidence, I believe that back in 1995, Simpson got away with murder.

And I suspect Donald Trump is guilty of a catalogue of serious crimes, though my speculation is based largely on (credible) news reports from the last four years.

But Derek Chauvin? That man killed George Floyd. This I know without a shadow of doubt, because, like the rest of the world, I watched him commit the horrific deed with my own eyes. I am well aware that sometimes there is more to a story than what is on the video tape. This isn’t one of those times.

Which makes all the more disgusting the bald-faced attempts of Chauvin’s lawyers, for the sake of his exoneration, to criminalize every fiber of Floyd’s existence in the hours leading up to his death.

It matters not what Floyd had for breakfast the day he was murdered, the drugs he took, or the words he managed out of his mouth while in police custody about what he did or didn’t ingest.  The contents of Floyd’s system didn’t kill him.

Consider the video footage just prior to his death: Inside the Cup Foods store, Floyd is walking, talking, laughing. He appears to be doing just fine. Regardless what is said to have been in his body, Floyd apparently got himself to the store that day with no problem.

Truth is, any human at the zenith of physical health would not have survived Chauvin’s knee on their neck for nine plus minutes.

Derek Chauvin kneeing George Floyd
Derek Chauvin kneeing George Floyd

You need air to live, and Chauvin’s knee took away Floyd’s ability to breathe. Over and again during prosecution testimony, we heard all the ways Floyd suffered in the torturous process of a  death that never should have happened.

Law enforcement’s institutional abuse of power and physical brutality of Black and Brown people   is synonymous with life in America. Always has been. Whenever news of the abuse reaches the public–too often, it doesn’t–the words of the victims and eye witnesses on their behalf were/are almost never acknowledged.

That is, until the night of March 3, 1991. Camera-equipped cell phones were a decade away when George Holliday, an amateur photographer of Argentinian descent, used his brand new camcorder to capture, from his Los Angeles apartment balcony, video of several Los Angeles police officers in an intersection in the distance, mercilessly pummeling with their batons a Black man later identified as Rodney King.

Two days later, Holliday, haunted by what he’d seen, called LAPD headquarters to show them the tape. Reportedly, nobody there was interested in seeing or discussing it with him. (Irony: Had LAPD taken Holliday seriously, they could have squashed the tape and the world might have never seen it.)

So, Holliday took his camcorder to local Los Angeles TV station KTLA 5. The channel was first to air a portion of the tape that shocked the nation.  The footage immediately christened a new era of policing police brutality, which has since gone visual with the advent of police bodycams and most important, a vigilant cell phone-armed society.

george floyd - derek chauvin
George Floyd and the former police officer who killed him, Derek Chauvin

In the Chauvin case, soul-wrenching video footage from various sources–the cell phones of bystanders, nearby businesses and city-owned cameras situated throughout the community–all show Chauvin performing unmitigated murder.

Yet, remarkably, Chauvin’s is anything but an open and shut case.

Forget the compelling video and testimony. In the end, it’s about how jurors in that jury box interpret—how they feel aboutwhat they’ve been presented.

And while jurors are discouraged by judges from putting their emotions before evidence, personal feelings can be an integral feature of a jury’s decision. The public doesn’t always view evidence in the same light as a jury.

Moreover, the Chauvin case comes at a time in America when many are willing to believe whatever conciliates their assorted fears.

There are people in this country, plenty of them, who insist that Trump was robbed of an election. They believe the Capitol insurrectionists were secretly Democrats; that ultimately,  Floyd’s criminal past is what got him killed and that Chauvin and his fellow officers did nothing wrong.

Some of those people make up that jury.  God help us.

Steven Ivory
Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Reach him at  [email protected] 

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