The world waits as a Minneapolis jury is deciding the fate of the former police officer accused in the death of George Floyd, which triggered worldwide protests.
The jury started deliberating on Monday afternoon, sequestered in a hotel, after closing arguments in the trial wrapped up.
The Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, declared a state of emergency in the Minneapolis area on Monday in anticipation of the verdict and has ordered additional police forces from Ohio and Nebraska to beef up the already thousands of extra law enforcement personnel in the area.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher began the day by describing the agonizing final minutes of Floyd’s life as he tried to survive under Chauvin’s knee for over nine minutes in the May 2020 arrest.
“He was trapped by the unyielding pavement,” said Schleicher, “as unyielding as the men who held him down.”
Derek Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries for help, said Schleicher, and continued his “intentional, unlawful assault” on Floyd, even after Floyd lost consciousness.
“There was nothing there,” said Schleicher, as Floyd was finally loaded into an ambulance.
Schleicher acknowledged the obvious: prosecuting a police officer in the line of duty is difficult.
“It’s a noble profession,” he said of policing, but added that it isn’t police on trial, it’s Derek Chauvin, as a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck was shown to the jury.
Chauvin rarely looked up, scribbling notes while Schleicher ridiculed the defense’s contention that Floyd died from heart problems or a drug overdose or even car exhaust fumes.
“That’s not common sense, that’s nonsense,” said Schleicher.
Chauvin paid much closer attention as defense attorney Eric Nelson began his closing arguments by imploring the jury to
“compare the evidence against itself, test it, challenge it.”
Nelson said the 9 minutes and 29 seconds where Chauvin is seen in a video kneeling on Floyd’s neck, which the prosecution has made the core of its case, “ignores” the previous 16 minutes in which he said Floyd “struggled, fought, whatever adjective you want to use.”
Someone can be compliant one minute, Nelson said and fighting the next.
Nelson repeatedly described Chauvin’s actions as “reasonable,” given Chauvin’s genuine fear that Floyd, and the bystanders around him, were aggressive.
And Nelson ridiculed the prosecution testimony of a lung specialist who pinpointed the moment Floyd took his last breath underneath Chauvin’s knee.
“Theory, speculation, assumption,” Nelson called it.
Interestingly, both the prosecution and defense played parts of the infamous cellphone video of Floyd’s death in their closing arguments, as well as parts of the police body camera video at the scene.
The prosecution argued the videos showed Floyd was compliant, even polite, before his death; the defense argued the videos showed Floyd was being unpredictable and that Chauvin’s actions fit the police department’s use-of-force policy.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell wrapped up with a rebuttal, trying to knock down some of the arguments that Nelson made.
Among them, the much-maligned theory that Floyd might have died from a police car’s exhaust fumes while on the ground.
Even if that were true, Blackwell said, it proved Chauvin was still being abusive by not moving Floyd away to safety.
“In your custody is in your care,” Blackwell said of the traditional police motto. “It’s not, ‘in your custody, I DON’T care’.”
Blackwell wrapped up by saying that Floyd’s enlarged heart was not the cause of his death as the defense has suggested, but rather how small Chauvin’s heart was.
The jury could acquit Chauvin or find him guilty on one of three different charges or on multiple charges, with punishments ranging from 10 to 40 years in prison.
Meanwhile, a few miles northwest of the courthouse, protests continue nightly after last week’s shooting death of a mixed-race man, Daunte Wright, by a white police officer. Wright’s funeral is set for Thursday and the officer has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
And a few miles south of the courthouse, hundreds of demonstrators showed up Sunday at the intersection where George Floyd died, now dubbed “George Floyd Square.”
“We’re trying to stay calm,” on-looker Jordan Edwards told Anadolu Agency, but he said Derek Chauvin “needs to be held accountable. And now we’re looking at the next guy, Daunte Wright. We can never be satisfied until [society]meets OUR goals.” And while George Floyd Square has been attracting visitors from around the world, one speaker angrily told the crowd: “This isn’t a tourist destination! It’s a murder scene!”