As the world descends on George Floyd murder trial, what will ultimately lead to justice for Floyd and other victims of police violence?

“George Floyd’s death shocked America and the world to the point of making the quadragenarian the symbol of the encountering of the police and the racial cleavages” or “inequalities” that “divide the country”. “It’s as much the trial of Derek Chauvin as it is the trial of American society,” said Matthieu Mabin, correspondent for France 24 in Washington, DC in a news segment on the stakes of the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former police officer, for the murder of George Floyd that began on Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Protesters at the White House on Saturday, May 30, 2020, demanding justice for George Floyd and end to racism against black and brown people in the United States. Photo: SIMON ATEBA, TODAY NEWS AFRICA, WASHINGTON DC 
Protesters at the White House on Saturday, May 30, 2020, demanding justice for George Floyd and end to racism against black and brown people in the United States. Photo: SIMON ATEBA, TODAY NEWS AFRICA, WASHINGTON DC

Stateside, The Washington Post pointed out the national significance of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police in May 2020 and what the result of the trial would mean to many people who participated in the widespread protests following his death and those who have long sought justice for victims of police brutality. “Many will be closely watching to see whether the long days spent in the streets, in what many have called the new civil rights movement, will result in justice not just for Floyd, but for the countless Black Americans who have been abused and killed by the police.”

On the trial itself, Reuters reported that the murder trial is “widely seen as a test of the U.S. justice system”. For Minnesota specifically, the BBC reported the trial as “arguably the highest profile murder trial in Minnesota history.”

The first day saw Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and Defense Attorney Eric Nelson give their opening statements to Judge Peter A. Cahill and 12 jurors. The prosecution also called its first 3 witnesses to testify.

Inside the courtroom, Esme Murphy, a reporter for WCCO who was present inside the courtroom on Monday, said, “it was so tense” when describing the emotion in the courtroom. Some of the jurors appeared visibly “shaken” as they watched the “infamous” 9 min 29 sec video of Chauvin with his knee pressed to Floyd’s neck and back and in which Floyd’s features were clearly visible.

Anti-racism and anti-police brutality protesters take to the streets in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, to demand justice for George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Monday, May 25, 2020. Photo: SIMON ATEBA, TODAY NEWS AFRICA, WASHINGTON DC 
Anti-racism and anti-police brutality protesters take to the streets in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, to demand justice for George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Monday, May 25, 2020. Photo: SIMON ATEBA, TODAY NEWS AFRICA, WASHINGTON DC

In downtown Minneapolis, people who had gathered to protest were reportedly “demanding a conviction of Derek Chauvin with the maximum sentence.”

‘Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all,’ Ben Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney was reported to have said at a news conference outside the courthouse.

But despite these great pronouncements and expectations – and vivid accounts – from international, national and local news sources, and from people, whether in Minneapolis or around the world who aren’t directly involved in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, it remains to be seen whether the initial shock of watching “that horrific video” and attendant arguments will be sufficient to sway the jury towards delivering the justice so many seek – and not only because the trial is expected to last four weeks.

“The trial will unfold according to the laws in force in Minnesota,” was Mr. Mabin’s first comment on the trial before launching into the social and political context surrounding it. The Washington Post described Mr. Crump as “pushing back against the idea that this is a ‘hard case’”.  

Between the two dueling attorneys in the trial, neither made much reference to race or to the broader implications of the jury’s decision. Mr. Blackwell said it was okay for jurors to accept that Floyd’s death was a crime saying, ‘It’s homicide. It’s murder.’ Mr. Nelson meanwhile urged the jurors to consider all the elements in the case and not to view the event through a social or political lens.

Mr. Maubin also pointed out that there has never been a white police officer convicted in a case involving an African-American in Minnesota.

That the protesters in Minneapolis on Monday were also calling for broader actions to be taken – such as the “passage of police reform legislation” and the “creating of a community board to oversee police for greater accountability,” could suggest that they see the case as having a limited impact or ultimately that they understand that as those in the courtroom work to uphold the laws, they are ultimately responsible for instilling justice in the legal system.

“This April, the executive power, legislative power, and judicial power, respectively embodied by the President of the United States, members of Congress, and judges, will have as a central issue the relationship between Americans and their police,” said Mr. Maubin. Indeed, as the trial unfolds in Minnesota, US civil society and national institutions have much work to do.

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