Volunteer writer Sebastian Wieneke details the trials and verdicts of the murders of both Daunte Wright and George Floyd at the hands of police officers.
Last week, the trial of Derek Chauvin concluded, with guilty verdicts given for all three of his convictions: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The trial of the former Minneapolis police officer has been closely watched by the global community, following the massive public outrage in the wake of the murder of George Floyd earlier last year.
During the court proceedings, the Defence was accused of putting Floyd’s drug use “on trial”. They suggested that that he died not due to the actions of Chauvin but due to drugs in his system and his pre-existing medical conditions. They also pointed the finger at bystanders of the arrest, suggesting their presence was threatening the officers. However, the coroner who examined Floyd’s body had concluded that his death was due to homicide.
The Defence brought forward Barry Brodd, a use of force expert, as a witness. He argued that the use of force used in Floyd’s arrest was justified, and that they could have even used higher levels if necessary, given the situation. This was, however, in contradiction to the testimonials given by several police witnesses associated with Minneapolis police department, who asserted that the force used was not only excessive but was not in any of their training manuals. They also said that police should never kneel on somebody’s neck while detaining them. The refusal of the Minneapolis police to back Chauvin was seen by some as a crack in the “blue wall” – a culture of police officers refusing to testify against their own in court.
Medaria Arradondo, the current chief of Minneapolis PD, was one of the police witnesses to testify for the prosecution at the trial. The statement below was issued the day after Chauvin’s conviction, urging people to keep the peace when gathering in protest, as well as their desire in helping to heal a “hurting” community. However, the mixed social media response shows that the department is still in trouble, and unrest is probably yet to come.
Statement From Chief Arradondo (April 20, 2021) pic.twitter.com/GO6PLEYfmv
— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) April 21, 2021
Among the members of his family, George Floyd’s brother Philonise was one of the most active in the courtroom over the trial. Acting as a character witness, he tearfully described his brother as a “Mama’s Boy” devoted to his daughter – a “leader” to those in the household and the community who “knew how to make people feel better”. When asked for his thoughts on the verdict, he said all he had in his head was that it was “not just for George”, noting that many people of colour felt like “we never get justice”.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 21, 2021
Many feel the outcome of the trial is historic, as the conviction of a white police officer for the murder of a black person in an ‘on duty’ incident is exceedingly rare in the United States. Chauvin’s conviction is hoped to help finally put a check to the power that police have over those in their custody, ensuring they can be held accountable for their actions. This sentiment was echoed by US President Joe Biden, who said that his (George’s) death had “changed the world” – and that “no one should be above the law”. The President also mentioned his plans for a police reform act named after Floyd, aimed at tackling systematic racism and racial disparities that exist in policing and in the US criminal justice system.
It should be noted that many states and municipalities have already made some reforms in response to last year’s protests – particularly in the tactics allowed to be deployed for crowd control. These include banning police use of kettling, tear gas and chokeholds, however many departments have not yet made changes to policy. A federal reform would attempt to standardise many of these changes across the country. However, some have said that these measures will not be enough to lead to real change, proposing defunding the police as a more viable solution.
Some others, however, have criticised this perhaps overly optimistic interpretation of the verdict. Despite a conviction, George Floyd’s bereaved family will never be the same again. Floyd himself will never witness the change that his death invoked, nor will he benefit from it. Further to this, a CBS poll alleged 46% of Republicans thought that the verdict of the trial was wrong.
— Forbes (@Forbes) April 25, 2021
Sadly, Floyd’s case has not slowed down the occurrence of tragic deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police. This month, another high-profile incident occurred in the very same city.
On the 11th of April, in the middle of Chauvin’s trial, 23-year police veteran Kim Potter (Brooklyn Center Station) shot dead 20 year old Daunte Wright in an alleged accident following an incident unfolding from a routine traffic stop. Two other officers were also present at the scene, as well as Wright’s girlfriend.
After running his name through the police database, the officers discovered that Wright had an outstanding warrant due to failing to appear in court to address charges of fleeing from law enforcement and possession of an unlicensed firearm. While moving to apprehend the suspect, Potter drew her pistol and shot him in the chest. After driving off in an attempt to flee, Wright succumbed to his injury and crashed the car, injuring his girlfriend. The officers pulled the injured man from the car and attempted CPR, but he was later pronounced dead on the scene.
In bodycam footage of the incident, Potter can be heard shouting “Taser, Taser, Taser”, threatening to deploy a taser to stop the suspect from fleeing. Immediately after this, however, the shooting occurs. Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon said in a press conference that Potter intended to tase Wright, however she instead discharged her firearm by accident. Although this very well could be the case, many argue that there is no room for mistakes when a life is at stake, and Potter should be held to account for the homicide. She was placed on extended administrative leave and is currently charged with second degree manslaughter, a crime with a maximum penalty of ten years incarceration and/or a $20,000 fine.
The official police report alleges that Wright was pulled over after officers noticed his expired car license plate, but some speculate it may have been due to the air freshener that was hanging on his rear-view mirror, an accessory which is illegal in several states. This law has been highly criticised, as it is one of several minor traffic code violations often used in ‘pretext stops’ – using the code violation as suspicion to investigate further suspected crimes with no evidence.
“The trooper later conceded that he did not stop every car with an air freshener” This is the problem. https://t.co/Thqfrqd5kt
— Annette Gordon-Reed (@agordonreed) April 17, 2021
As the world waits to hear Derek Chauvin’s sentence, the clashes between protestors and police around the United States will continue. Racial Injustice in Law Enforcement will unfortunately continue to come up as an issue in the coming years, no matter the long-term outcome of the trials and sentencing. People will continue to stand up for change in a system that they feel kept down by and afraid of. It’s important to view the issue from the perspective of those directly affected, and work with communities who often feel targeted by the police. As Americans look forward to a future without fear, the question remains on what Joe Biden’s police reform “Floyd” act could look like. Will it get passed? Will it be enough? How many more people have to be brutalised before real change is enacted? These questions are unfortunately difficult to answer.
Edited by Izzie Naish – News Editor
Header by Christos Alamaniotis – Head of Design