Eyewitnesses testify on the killing of George Floyd.
The second day of Derek Chauvin’s trial featured three reliable eyewitnesses – a mixed martial artist who “called the police on the police” when he saw the “blood choke” killing George Floyd, an off-duty firefighter who said she was “desperate to help” but was rebuffed by the cops, and the traumatized teenager who took the infamous video with her cell phone. All three cried and fought off disparaging and often racist questions from the defense. They all affirmed, yes, they saw a murder, and it was horrific.
During the trial held on Monday, March 29, 2021, prosecutors revealed a harrowing fact: Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, not for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, but for nine minutes and 29 seconds. “The most important numbers you will hear in this trial are nine two nine,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury. Then, he broke it down: 4 minutes and 45 seconds as Floyd cried for help, 53 seconds as he flailed from seizures, 3 minutes and 51 seconds as he lay unresponsive.
After playing the video, Blackwell noted that, during those excruciating minutes, Chauvin “didn’t let up” on Floyd, who pleaded 27 times that he couldn’t breathe. “He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath – no, ladies and gentlemen – until the very life was squeezed out of him.”
The strategy of Chauvin’s defense team seems to be to try to discredit witnesses and to blame Floyd’s death on his drug use despite medical examiners determining the cause of death as a homicide. Defense attorney Eric Nelson feebly argued Chauvin’s extreme use of force was “unattractive but necessary.” He argued that Floyd’s death was caused by almost everything but Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes – hypertension, coronary disease, and drugs. He argued that three cops “could not overcome the strength of Mr. Floyd.”
The first witness to counter Nelson’s claims was 33-year-old Donald Williams, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and former wrestler who lives near the Cup Foods convenience store. Williams offered an unparalleled and professional perspective that gave him an extra level of credibility despite his obvious scorn and disdain for Chauvin. It was also apparent that Nelson was trying to antagonize Williams, who kept his cool throughout the entire cross-examination.
Williams, who has trained cops, came upon the scene of three cops on top of Floyd. He said he was deeply disturbed but “as an MMA fighter, I tried to keep my discipline.” Williams referred to the kneeling restraint used by Chauvin as a “blood choke” and said, “I believe I witnessed a murder.” When he saw Chauvin do a “shimmy” to fatally increase pressure, he yelled repeatedly at him to stop.
Williams painfully described Floyd dying: “You could see his eyes slowly, you know, rolling back up and in his head, and him having his mouth open, wide open… that he’s trying to, you know, gasp for air.” By the time Floyd was loaded into an ambulance, he had no pulse. After they left, feeling “very lost” and that he had to “speak out for Floyd’s life,” Williams called 911, stating that, yes, “I did call the police on the police,” to say he “witnessed a murder.”
When prosecutors played back his call – “Officers just killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest… He was already in handcuffs… Then he stopped breathing” – Williams got tearful. But when Eric Nelson tried to paint him as another scary black guy, he stood his ground. Was it true, Nelson asked, he called Chauvin “some mean names,” including “a tough guy” and “a fucking bum”? “You heard the video,” Williams said calmly. “I was watching a man get murdered. I said what I said, with no regret.”
Prosecutors then called 18-year-old Darnella Frazier who recorded the video to testify; only audio of her testimony was livestreamed. Frazier was taking her 9-year-old cousin Judeah Reynolds to the store when she saw a man (George Floyd) “and a cop kneeling down on him. Floyd was “terrified, scared, begging for his life,” she said, crying. “It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain… He cried for his mom.” She added, “I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins… They are all Black… That could have been one of them.”
Her heartbreaking testimony included a confession that “It has been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more (and) not saving his life.” Then, angrily, “It’s not what I should have done – it’s what he (staring at Chauvin) should have done.”
The day’s final witness was Genevieve Clara Hansen, a young, white, off-duty firefighter who came on the scene and was “desperate to help.” She yelled at the cops to let her help or take Floyd’s pulse. When they blocked her, she began recording the event on her phone “because memories of witnesses are never going to be as good as a video.”
In court, Hansen was emotional but firm in her statements. She carefully described the steps she would have taken to render aid. She didn’t let Nelson’s contentious remarks stop her. Nelson: “What if…?” Hansen: “I know my job.” Nelson: “But what if an untrained person…?” Hansen: “I’m trained, so no.” Nelson: “Some people were swearing.” Hansen: “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting.”
After Floyd was taken away, Hansen stayed at the scene because she was worried about the safety of the Black people still there with the cops. Like Williams, shaken by what she’d seen, she called the police on the police. “I literally just watched police officers not take a pulse and not do anything to save a man,” she told 911. “I am a first responder myself, and…they fucking killed him.”
After the day’s proceedings, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse. Speakers called for justice for Floyd and others whose lives have been lost in encounters with police.
The Minneapolis courthouse where the trial is taking place has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences, and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the riots that followed Floyd’s death, with National Guard troops already mobilized.
Chauvin’s trial is being livestreamed over the objections of the prosecution. Judge Peter Cahill ordered that cameras be allowed largely because of the pandemic and the required social distancing, which left almost no room for spectators in the courtroom.