The Derek Chauvin trial kicked off this week with opening arguments from prosecutors and the defense. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: The Derek Chauvin Trial
Joe Barrett and Erin Ailworth, writing for The Wall Street Journal, report: “Prosecutors said Monday that jurors should trust their eyes in the murder trial of a former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, but the defense said the case was more complicated than the viral video that sparked a wave of unrest last summer.
‘You can believe your eyes. It’s homicide, it’s a murder,’ Jerry Blackwell, a special assistant attorney general, said of the widely seen video depicting the 9 minutes and 29 seconds that prosecutors say the former officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, asked jurors to look at the totality of the evidence and not any outside factors before making their decision.”
Here’s what both sides are saying about the highly publicized court case:
On The Left
The left makes clear that anything less than a murder conviction is simply unacceptable. Additionally, some are pushing for a full revision of the criminal justice system that addresses structural racism and chronic poverty.
The Washington Post Editorial Board begins by pointing out that “the first witness the prosecution called… 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.” The WaPo Ed Board zooms out, saying, “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.” Ultimately, as it relates to Derek Chauvin the WaPo Ed Board says, “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.”
In an MSNBC column, Ali Velshi also describes the eye-opening video of Floyd’s death and asks repeatedly: “What more do they need?” To Velshi “the trial of Chauvin on the death of Floyd will end up being far more than the trial of one police officer in the death of one man.” Velshi says “this is a test of the system. Black people have for years pointed out that killings by police are merely contemporary lynchings, extrajudicial killings meted out without legal deliberation or adjudication.” Velshi notes that he is “not a lawyer, nor [is he] on the jury.” But after watching “Floyd complain about being unable to breathe” and seeing “Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck… for several minutes” he ends by asking one more time: “What more do they need?“
Lastly, in USA Today, Katharine Huffman focuses on solutions and also the bigger issue at hand. To her, it’s “not just Derek Chauvin on trial in Minneapolis; it’s our nation’s values around race too.” Huffman sees the trial presenting “real opportunities for action” in the form of legislation, specifically citing the recently passed First Step Act and reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act. As she sees it, “The current system is built on a foundation of structural racism and chronic poverty,” resulting in black people being incarcerated at a rate of 3.16 times the rate of white people. She faults incarceration as the “catch-all solution for a host of social pathologies and personal traumas such as mental illness, homelessness, addiction, and poverty.” Ultimately, Huffman believes the nation should follow the lead of many local communities that instead choose to invest in “education, health care, and jobs.”
Whether touting social justice opportunities or zeroing in on what they see as clear-cut evidence, Democrats are pushing for the conviction of Derek Chauvin.
On The Right
Meanwhile, the right anticipates a not-guilty verdict. They support their argument by pointing to an overzealous prosecutor who overcharged Chauvin, as well as additional evidence that has come to light in court.
In Newsweek, Andrew C. McCarthy emphasizes the need for due diligence and due process. America, he writes, is committed to “affording due process to even the most sinister, the most patently guilty, and thus the most unpopular defendants.” He notes that when he was a federal prosecutor, left-leaning attorneys insisted that captured terrorists face trial in civilian courts and even volunteered “their services to represent [these] remorseless” offenders. In Chauvin’s case, however, McCarthy says that “For much of the nation, and its editorial boards, his trial is not so much a legal case as a racialized morality play involving a vicious white cop and a helpless black victim. Nothing less than a murder conviction will do, regardless of what the evidence shows. McCarthy believes that politics also played a role when the state announced settlement terms with the Floyd family in advance of the trial saying Minnesota put “its thumb on the scale to assure that Chauvin is convicted of murder.”
Cal Thomas provides additional details from the Floyd incident in the Washington Times. He explains that the entire event was much longer than what is seen in the video, including a store altercation in which the owner called police on an incoherent Floyd. He also notes how Floyd resisted arrest and was eventually removed from the back of the police vehicle. Floyd told police he had been “hooping,” which involves “putting drugs in the anus, resulting in a quick and intense high” and “shouted seven times that he couldn’t breathe” before lying down. The Hennepin County medical examiner found that “Floyd had a ‘fatal level’ of fentanyl in his system” as well as significant heart problems, both of which “likely contributed to his death.” Thomas claims that the initial narrative was wrong and accuses prosecutors of misconduct for having “withheld this information for nearly three months as riots erupted in Minneapolis and elsewhere.”
Finally, James Gagliano of The New York Post says “What Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd was despicable — but it’s unlikely to get a murder conviction.” In Gagliano’s view, the public needs to come to terms with the fact “that prosecutors may have made a critical error by overcharging the case.” Gagliano isn’t sticking up for Chauvin’s conduct, he says it’s “an appalling case of police brutality.” However, he also notes that “criminal cases are often messy, complicated, and complex.” Gagliano says Floyd’s drug use is one reason why this won’t be as straightforward as it should be. He says “In court — not the public opinion version — The prosecutorial burden of proof in a murder case is an impossibly high threshold when saddled with the autopsy report’s listed contributory factors in Floyd’s death.” As a result, Gagliano concludes with a Prediction: “Acquittal on the murder charges and found guilty of second-degree manslaughter.”
The right calls for all evidence to be heard and is wary of a violent response in the wake of a potential not-guilty verdict.
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A USA Today-Ipsos Poll released in early March found that “Thirty-six percent of those surveyed described Floyd’s death as murder, compared to 60 percent who said the same last June. Seventeen percent said they didn’t know how to describe it, compared to only 4 percent who said the same last year.” Additionally, “The poll found that more Black Americans, at 64 percent, viewed Floyd’s death as murder than white Americans, at 28 percent. However, 33 percent of white Americans described the incident as negligence on the police officer’s behalf, compared to 16 percent of Black Americans.”
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