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The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd, began on March 29th with opening statements. (The word ‘allegedly is left out because Floyd was alive, and then, eight minutes and 46 seconds later, he was not, and the only intervening event that happened was Chauvin’s knee on his neck).
This is unusual not only because police officers are very seldom accused of criminal acts, but because trials themselves are exceedingly rare. On average nationwide, only 2% of criminal prosecutions end in trials. Defendants plead guilty for a variety of reasons, but by far the two most important are that they actually are guilty of something and the punishment will be exponentially greater if a jury convicts than if the case ends with a plea bargain.
That George Floyd died under Chauvin’s knee is not an issue. The question is whether Chauvin is criminally responsible for it, and this rests on whether a jury will decide beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill him. Chauvin is charged with first, second, and third-degree murder. What distinguishes these is the depth of the killer’s intent. Chauvin could swallow his bitter medicine, which is likely to be less bitter than if he is convicted at trial—by pleading guilty to the lowest charge if the prosecution drops the two higher ones.
As Chauvin’s trial has commenced, the jury, comprised mainly of white people (of this we can be almost certain), will tell the world whether they think killing a Black man should be a crime. In a reasonable world, this trial would be perfunctory or there wouldn’t even be a trial, Chauvin would have accepted some kind of plea deal. That is what most people do when they are caught on camera killing someone.
But we don’t live in a reasonable world, we live in a white dominated world. Chauvin is White, and an ex-police officer. And his victim was Black. In most situations, that is all you need to get away with murder.
Chauvin’s attorneys will likely argue that something else killed Floyd during the nearly nine minutes Chauvin was suffocating him. They might also claim that Floyd had some underlying health problem that made him more vulnerable to vicious police brutality than the average Black man or that something happened before the video that justified the brutality caught on camera. They will declare that Floyd’s death was ‘tragic,’ but fundamentally Floyd’s fault somehow.
These arguments are ludicrous and should be treated as such. Floyd is dead because he was Black, and Chauvin figured it was okay to choke a Black person to death. But Chauvin will not be judged by anyone who understands such basic facts. Instead, Chauvin will be tried in front of a jury composed predominately of white people who haven’t yet made up their minds on the whole violent police brutality question, people who didn’t even bother to fully educate themselves on why there was a massive uprising of Black people throughout the country all summer. And then that system will call their judgment ‘justice’.
The process of stacking the jury in Chauvin’s favour has already started. For those new to the art of jury selection, it is a deeply flawed process where most citizens are summoned to the courthouse, via mail, and unless they can come up with a good excuse for why they can’t show up, they have to appear, usually for a couple of days. If a trial starts during that period, some of them may be randomly selected to fill out a questionnaire. The answers to that questionnaire are given under penalty of perjury, but people rarely check. Then, these prospective jurors are questioned, one by one, by the attorneys in the case (and the judge if they choose to do so).
After the questioning, called the ‘voir dire’, lawyers are given the option to exercise what’s called a ‘peremptory challenge’. These challenges allow lawyers to strike potential jurors on the suspicion of bias, except that lawyers don’t have to explain or prove why they think a particular juror is unfit to serve. Lawyers can strike jurors for any reason, or no reason at all. Peremptory challenges give lawyers wide discretion in shaping the jury and can be abused. Technically, for instance, you’re not allowed to strike a juror just because of their race. But as long as the striking lawyer can give a facially race-neutral reason, the exclusion of that juror will stand. So, you couldn’t strike a juror for being ‘Black’ but you absolutely could strike a juror for listening to rap music.
There is a huge necessity for Derek Chauvin to be tried and prosecuted in the right way and manner if America truly wants to uphold its already tarnished justice system. A failure to do this would ruin a lot of American lives and further sink America’s justice system and the problem of racial prejudice that has been beguiling the United States of America.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK