Derek Chauvin Trial: Its National and International Importance

With the completion of the selection of jurors for the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd [1], commentators are reminding everyone of the trial’s importance, nationally and internationally [2] Here are some of those comments.

Paul Butler, a a former federal prosecutor and now a professor of criminal law and race relations at Georgetown University Law Center, says the trial “in terms of public consciousness . . . is all about race.” Indeed, race “will almost certainly shape how the jury perceives testimony and evidence in the case and ultimately the deliberations and verdict—in part because of the surprising diversity of the jury itself.”

Two StarTribune reporters (Ferguson and Rau) say that “George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has become a defining moment of our time [and] an American reckoning on justice, racial equity, the proper role of law enforcement and the historical wrongs society has perpetrated on Black people.” Therefore, this case “will be viewed as another chapter—perhaps turning point—in American racial history.” To support these conclusions they cite the following statements by noted commentators:

  • Keith Mayes, a Black man and associate professor at the University of Minnesota Department of African American and African Studies, believes “conviction [of Chauvin] is necessary for us to reimagine what a future can look like, because these cases continue to happen until the police are thoroughly reformed.”
  • Brenda Stevenson, a professor of history and African-American studies at UCLA, asserts that the Chauvin case “has become a global indictment of police forces. This is now representative of what happens everywhere—at least, that is what many people believe—people are really starting to see if the U.S. can get it right this time.”
  • Martin Luther King, III believes the import of this trial “cannot be overstated. An acquittal will mean criminal justice system must be rethought. It may set a tone for how people perceive whether justice can be achieved, specifically for Black people.”

A recent decision by Judge Peter Cahill allowing limited evidence of Mr. Floyd’s 2019 encounter with the Minneapolis police when he was not charged with any crime worries Paul Butler, the Albert Brick Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. That limited evidence will concern two subjects: drugs that only recently were discovered in Floyd’s car from 2019  and Floyd’s telling a paramedic at the 2019 encounter that he had taken such pills earlier that day and one during this episode. These points may lead to a defense argument that Floyd was “a violent and reckless dope fiend.”

Such a defense argument, in my opinion, should backfire. First, in May of 2020 Chauvin had no knowledge about Floyd’s prior encounter. Second and more importantly Mr.Floyd, while being pinned down by Chauvin in May 2020, by his cries and behavior, gave notice that he had serious underlying physical and medical issues that were perceived by bystanders and ex-officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng when they called for Chauvin to release Floyd. 

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One (Mar. 15, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Two (Mar. 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Three (Mar. 24, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Commendations and Thank You’s (Mar. 25, 2021). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: The Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentareis.com.

[2] Butler, Opinion: This new ruling could let the suspect in George Floyd’s killing go free, Wash. Post (Mar. 26, 2021); Bailey, What Derek Chauvin’s trial for the death of George Floyd means for America, Wash. Post (Mar. 27, 2021); Ferguson & Rao, Derek Chauvin trial represents a defining moment in America’s racial history, StarTribune (Mar. 28, 2021); Tarm & Forliti (AP), Jurors in ex-officer’s high profile trial face heavy burden, StarTribune (Mar. 28, 2021).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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