Since the jury selection began for the trial of Derek Chauvin, I’ve been wrestling with how much energy I want to invest. I want justice for George Floyd and his family, and that’s why I’m struggling.
I’m torn with how much to watch. As a journalist and editor of a newspaper dedicated to serving the Black community, I’m tasked with keeping up with pertinent issues. This trial falls into that category and deserves my attention.
However, as a Black American, I’m afraid to watch this trial. I don’t know if I can watch and listen to witness testimony day after day only to have a not guilty verdict in the end. I’m afraid of having my heart broken once again by a justice system that seems to work exactly as it was designed — against us — but now purports to work for us. It doesn’t take a national case for us to see how the courts fail us. We can look at countless situations and see bias and failure at every turn.
But the failure of these trials has a bigger impact on our collective psyche. We don’t bear witness to every trial. We don’t always have video of a man’s murder by a police officer, and we don’t always see a cop behave so callously. With these big, national trials, though, we can watch the trial in its entirety. We see the facial expressions. We have opinions on questions posed to witnesses and the answers given.
We hear the defense attorney ask witnesses to describe what they saw, how they felt, how they wanted to help Floyd and the police officers wouldn’t let them. We hear them say they pleaded with Chauvin and other police officers to stop, that they told them Floyd couldn’t breathe and he was dying.
We hear the defense accuse those witnesses and the entire crowd of being angry, agitated and a threat to police officers. We listen and become enraged because angry and agitated seem like appropriate reactions when you see an officer of the law kneeling on a man’s neck, killing him.
We learn more facts such as Floyd was tortured for 9 minutes and 29 seconds not 8 minutes and 46 seconds as previously thought. Eight minutes and 46 seconds was bad enough. You can’t even argue it was a split-second decision. You can’t even argue he was afraid for his life as is the standard line in these situations.
This trial seems like all the evidence is there to convict Chauvin, but we know it’s far from open and shut. Lawyers are gonna lawyer and try to convince the jury of Chauvin’s innocence or at least plant seeds of doubt.
This trial is traumatic.
I watched the trial of George Zimmerman. I watched it daily. I watched it at work. I watched it when I got home. I was convinced there was enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin. He wasn’t convicted. He was acquitted. I cried. I was angry. I was frustrated. My heart broke — and breaks — for his parents.
Instead of being grateful and fading into the background to live a quiet life, Zimmerman publicly trolled Black folk at every opportunity. He taunted us. He became a braggart. I don’t want us to deal with that heartbreak, anger or disgust again.
And that’s why I’m struggling with this trial and approaching it with caution. It’s my duty to stay informed, and I do. I read articles from each day’s proceedings. We have the trial on in the newsroom, so I can glance at it on occasion. I can’t, however, watch this trial with regularity. The fear of the outcome is too visceral. My eyes water and my stomach turns at the possibility that Chauvin could be acquitted.
I’m realizing these trials are just another way for America to gaslight us, inflict collective trauma on us. Tell us justice is blind and the system is fair only for us to put our faith in the system and be let down again. I pray that doesn’t happen this time, but precedent has been set many times over.