Perhaps the life of George Floyd would have been spared if Derek Chauvin and the three other Minneapolis police officers with him had just paid attention. Not just attention to Floyd as he cried for “momma” and said over and over he could not breathe, but attention to the bystanders who gathered around as Chauvin put his knee to Floyd’s neck, reapplying pressure at incremental moments, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. What if police had heeded the cries from those people begging Chauvin to let up and the other officers to intervene, because Floyd had been subdued and was now in distress? But they did not.
The concerns of these people were invisible to the officers, or, even worse, they were seen as agitators with the audacity to question police authority. Officer Tou Thao took on the roll of crowd enforcer, prosecutors said, blowing off resident complaints. Now Floyd is dead, and Chauvin is on trial for taking his life.
The first week of testimony in Chauvin’s trial put on full display what can go horribly wrong when police view the community with such little regard, and gave a glimpse into the fractured relationships around the country between police and the neighborhoods that they are supposed to protect, especially when the residents are Black and brown. Baltimore was one of those cities where police were cited for bad relationships with the community in a federal consent decree. In Minneapolis last week, witness after witness expressed their own guilt and anguish for not being able to intervene in Floyd’s killing — the actions of Chauvin not just taking a life, but traumatizing a whole community. With each testimony came the same feeling of hopelessness and fear of officers brazen enough to do what they did in front of scores of witnesses and as video cameras recorded. Tears flowed freely on the witness stand, many witnesses still visibly affected by what they saw.