On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd suffered death soon after being arrested and restrained by members of the Minneapolis Police Department. Like most Americans, I was appalled by images of Officer Chauvin with his knee on the neck of a prostrate Floyd as the latter struggled to breathe. It was a terrible scene, and it should never have happened. Floyd died soon thereafter, was immediately elevated to a state of semi-sainthood, and the nation erupted in a fury of racial violence. Chauvin and fellow officers at the scene were charged, and now, ten months later, Derek Chauvin is on trial for George Floyd’s death. Along with Chauvin, American justice will also be on trial.
Chauvin is being tried for being guilty of one of the following offenses:
Second Degree Murder – usually defined as intentional murder that lacks premeditation, or a murder that was intended to only cause bodily harm and demonstrates extreme indifference to human life.
Third Degree Murder – also called felony murder, when an offender kills, regardless of intent, during the commission of a dangerous crime.
Manslaughter – the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought.
The jurors will be required to render a unanimous verdict, and there will be intense pressure to convict Chauvin of murder. Even a manslaughter verdict would not suffice to satisfy those who want Chauvin to suffer a severe penalty – preferably death. Though a death sentence is impossible in Minnesota, a long prison sentence can be imposed. Should the jury find Chauvin not guilty, there is fear of massive rioting and possible bloodshed.
But is Chauvin guilty of killing George Floyd? Did placing his knee on the neck of a prostrate Floyd cause or contribute to that man’s death? Many of the examining medical experts say yes, but there are others who insist that Floyd’s symptoms and eventual death were because of a lethal overdose of fentanyl combined with the victim’s recent usage of methamphetamine. In their opinion, Floyd was a dying man even before Officer Chauvin placed his knee on his neck.
Regardless of what actually killed George Floyd, I believe most of us would agree that Derek Chauvin had no wish to kill Floyd. A crowd had gathered at the scene, and Chauvin knew that everything he said or did was being recorded. He was also aware of the racial tensions. What could Chauvin hope to gain by Floyd’s death? Nothing. What did he have to lose? Much. Why Chauvin continued to keep his knee on Floyd’s neck some minutes after he appeared unresponsive is beyond any logical explanation.
I am inclined to attribute Chauvin’s actions to terribly poor judgement or sheer stupidity. We do not usually imprison people for these failings, else the prisons would be overflowing, but this time we will probably make an exception.