George Floyd’s Murder Rekindled A Movement
By: M Baqir Mohie El-Deen, MPAC Policy Program Manager
The whole world watched as video evidence surfaced last summer of Officer Derek Chauvin using the knee restraint technique on George Floyd that ultimately ended his life. Now, the world’s center stage is the courtroom in Minneapolis, as Chauvin undergoes trial for the murder of Floyd. This is a moment of reckoning; however, this case is not unique. In Minneapolis alone, between 2015 and 2020, 44 people were forced unconscious by police rendering the knee restraint technique. On the national level, since 2005, out of the thousands of fatalities caused by police officers, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, and only seven have been convicted of murder. These figures don’t include the decades of America’s systematic police brutality against African Americans. What makes this case notable was that it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the whole world was on pause, allowing the masses to view the crime committed by Officer Chauvin.
What to Expect From The Court Case
As the trial unfolds, it’s vital that one keeps their expectations low. American criminal trials are seldomly a genuine pursuit of the truth since our criminal procedures aren’t set up to ensure so, but rather they’re a test of evidence presented to a judge and jury that are unrealistically expected to participate without biases. At best, criminal trial cases can reveal truths that can help fill in the blanks on how an event unfolded through the presented evidence. This is not the case, however, with the George Floyd murder, because the entire world witnessed the events that transpired with the murder of George Floyd this past May. The video was clear: an unarmed black man’s life was ended by a police officer who chose to use an unprovoked knee restraint technique as he attempted to arrest a Black man.
As the above numbers indicate, it’s a miracle that Officer Chauvin even faces a trial. Much of this can be accredited to Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first American Muslim State Attorney General in the United States. However, one single person, regardless of their position, cannot be realistically expected to change the system that has plagued the nation for generations. We witnessed this back in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was murdered. The nation paused in disbelief as the jury exonerated George Zimmerman, expecting a different result on a case that occurred when the nation was being presided over by its first Black president. President Obama, who was not able to influence the outcome of the verdict, came out publicly shortly after the verdict testifying to the world that when he first learned of Trayvon’s murder, he said, “this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
Similar to Zimmerman’s case, Chauvin may be exonerated in a few weeks, and the defense only needs to convince one of the selected 15 jurors for the case to end with a hung jury.
What is This Case Actually About
Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and criminal law and race relations professor at Georgetown University Law Center stated, “In terms of public consciousness, this is all about race, the irony is that race may not come up in the actual courtroom during the trial. That’s a strategic decision that each side will have to make.” As we observe the makeup of the jury, we see that Butler’s words ring true. Although Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located, is 74 percent White, the jury is not. Out of the 15 jurors selected for this case, one is a Black woman, two are multiracial women, three are White men, three are Black men and six are White women. This was also observed by former Chief Public Defender in Hennepin County, Mary Mortiary, who said, “this jury is much more diverse compared to what we usually see.”
The Murder of George Floyd Rekindled a Movement that Transcends the Chauvin Case
Regardless of the outcome of this case, and what happens to Derek Chauvin, the murder of George Floyd has rekindled a discussion around the nation, and globally, about police brutality and qualified immunity. The protests that were sparked by the murder of Floyd were seen in over 60 countries and on all seven continents, including Antartica, where a group of workers came together for a photograph holding signs bearing ‘Black Lives Matter’. George Floyd’s murder refueled prominent local issues around the globe, like the 2016 death of Adama Traoré near Paris while in police custody (where roughly 20,000 French citizens have protested) and the high rate of death amongst incarcerated Indigenous Australians.
Here in America, the whole nation is now discussing the movement to end police brutality and qualified immunity. Politicians are publicly running for office, with support for or against the movement, including President Biden, who made a campaign promise to “expand and use the power of the U.S. Justice Department to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices.” President Biden started his term with a racial equity executive order to help tackle the systematic inequalities that minorities face in the United States.
In Congress, earlier this month, our House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill of 2021. The George Floyd Act bans chokeholds by police officers, and would end qualified immunity that police officers are privileged to Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced the bill, pleading to her peers during the reading of the bill: “At some point, we have to ask ourselves, how many more people have to die? How many more people have to be brutalized on videotape? We must act now to transform policing in the United States.”
Action is also being taken at the state and local levels. Earlier this week we witnessed New York City become the first city in the United States to end qualified immunity, the practice of not being able to file a civil lawsuit against a government official performing his or her official duties unless they “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” All of these actions being taken at all levels of our government can be accredited to the movement that was rekindled by the murder of George Floyd, which go down in history as a milestone that helped America progress on the issues of criminal justice, police brutality and qualified immunity.