The Acquittal of Derek Chauvin Has Already Begun


A makeshift memorial of George Floyd in which he appears to be weeping. (Photo by Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images)

Derek Chauvin is the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd. I don’t have to say “allegedly” killed, because I saw it. Floyd was alive, and then, eight minutes and 46 seconds later, he was not, and the only intervening event that happened was Chauvin’s knee on his neck.

Chauvin’s trial started this week, and soon a jury, comprised mainly of white people (of this we can be almost certain), will tell us whether they think killing a Black man should be a crime. In a reasonable world, this trial would be perfunctory. Hell, in a reasonable world, there wouldn’t even be a trial: Chauvin would have accepted some kind of plea deal. That’s what most people do when they are caught on camera killing someone.

But we don’t live in a reasonable world—we live in a white one. Chauvin is white, and he’s a cop. And his victim was Black. In most situations, that’s all you need to get away with murder.

Chauvin’s attorneys will likely argue that something else killed Floyd during the nearly nine minutes Chauvin was suffocating him. They will claim that Floyd had some underlying health problem that made him more vulnerable to vicious police brutality than the average Black man or that something happened before the video that justified the brutality caught on camera. They will declare that Floyd’s death was “tragic,” but fundamentally Floyd’s fault. Somehow.

These arguments are ludicrous and should be treated as such. Floyd is dead because he was Black, and Chauvin figured it was okay to choke a Black person to death. But Chauvin will not be judged by anyone who understands such basic facts. He will not be judged by me or anybody like me. I’m not “impartial” about whether Black people should be treated with the same basic human dignity as white people. According to the white people who run this system, that makes me too “biased” to sit on Chauvin’s jury.

Instead, Chauvin will be tried in front of a jury composed predominately of white people who haven’t yet made up their minds on the whole violent police brutality question. You know the people I’m talking about: the “maybe all lives should matter?” folks. The people who use “urban” when they mean “Black” and “thug” when they mean “n*****r” but can’t say it because they’re in public. The system will trot out 12 of the least-informed people it can find, people who didn’t even bother to fully educate themselves on why there was a massive uprising of Black people throughout the country all summer. And then that system will call their judgment “justice.”

The process of stacking the jury in Chauvin’s favor started this week. For those new to the art of jury selection, it’s a deeply flawed process. Citizens are summoned to the courthouse, via mail, and unless they can come up with a good excuse for why they can’t show up, they have to appear, usually for a couple of days. If a trial starts during that period, some of them may be randomly selected to fill out a questionnaire. The answers to that questionnaire are given under penalty of perjury, but people rarely check. Then, these prospective jurors are questioned, one by one, by the attorneys in the case (and the judge if they choose to do so). After the questioning, called the “voir dire,” lawyers are given the option to exercise what’s called a “peremptory challenge.” These challenges allow lawyers to strike potential jurors on the suspicion of bias, except that lawyers don’t have to explain or prove why they think a particular juror is unfit to serve. Lawyers can strike jurors for any reason, or no reason at all.

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