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This editorial was written by the editorial board of the Washington Post. It expresses my views.
THE FIRST witness the prosecution called in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd was a 911 dispatcher who watched the arrest unfold in real time on a surveillance camera. So long did the restraint go on that she wondered if the camera feed had frozen. “My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” she testified, explaining why she took the unusual step of reporting the officers’ use of force.
Her instincts — as the world knows from its own viewing of video footage of the May 25 events at that Minneapolis street corner — proved to be terrifyingly and tragically accurate. Something is clearly wrong when an arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill ends up with a 46-year-old Black man gasping for air, pleading for help — and dying. Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests and questioning about race, policing and social justice. A jury in Minnesota now faces one specific question: whether to hold Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd under his knee for more than nine minutes — nine minutes and 29 seconds, to be exact — criminally responsible. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.
“You’ll be the judge of the facts, and I’ll be the judge of the law,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill told the 12-member, racially diverse jury Monday at the start of a trial that is expected to be one of the most closely watched in years. Court TV is providing live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings. It is fitting that a public that watched Floyd’s death can now witness whether there is a reckoning.
Jerry W. Blackwell, one of the prosecutors, played the video during his opening arguments to drive home how Mr. Chauvin did not “let up” or “get up.” Floyd said 27 times he couldn’t breathe, and a crowd that formed called repeatedly on police to get up because it was clear Floyd was in distress. “While he’s crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves,” the prosecutor told the jury. “You can believe your eyes, that it’s homicide, it’s murder.”
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer argued there is more to the case than the video, contending that Floyd’s death was caused by his underlying heart disease and drug use; he even blamed the crowd for posing a threat and diverting officers’ attention from Floyd. “You will learn,” said Eric J. Nelson, “that Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he had been trained to do during the course of his 19-year career.” We hope no jury can accept that a police officer would be trained to be so willing to cause harm and so indifferent to human suffering.