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.
Peremptory challenges give lawyers wide discretion in shaping the jury and can be abused. Technically, for instance, you’re not allowed to strike a juror just because of their race. But as long as the striking lawyer can give a facially race-neutral reason, the exclusion of that juror will stand. So, you couldn’t strike a juror for being “Black” but you absolutely could strike a juror for listening to rap music.
The jury questionnaire for the Chauvin trial is longer than normal, and full of questions cop lawyers can use to weed out anybody Black, without having to say so. Look at some of the questions in the “Police Contacts” section:
- Have you, or someone close to you, ever helped support or advocated in favor of or against police reform? If “Yes,” please explain
- Have you ever personally seen the police use more force than was needed? If “Yes,” please explain
- Other than what you have already described above, have you, or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality?
- How favorable or unfavorable are you about Black Lives Matter?
- How favorable or unfavorable are you about Blue Lives Matter?
If you’ve protested against police brutality, you’re almost certainly out. If you’ve even seen police brutality, you’re also, almost certainly, out. If you think the police brutality you’ve heard about is bad and should be reformed, you’re still probably out. But if you’re an adult who buys into the false equivalency between Black Lives Matter and the racist counter-trope, Blue Lives Matter, you’re probably in.
Only a few people have survived peremptory challenges in the Chauvin trial thus far, and it looks like the defense is getting exactly the kind of white people it wants. Here’s a local report about one of the men chosen:
The man, who prosecutors said identifies as white, said he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, but views the organization itself unfavorably. He also has an unfavorable view of the Blue Lives Matter movement. He said everyone should matter the same.
The whole point of that is that all lives should matter equally, and that should include police.
This man, apparently a chemist, reportedly told the court that he works to “find facts” and thinks “analytically,” yet he said he had never seen the video of Floyd’s death. So, for those playing along at home, here’s a guy who thinks he likes facts but couldn’t be bothered to learn the facts behind why Black people all across this country were risking Covid-19 exposure and police brutality to protest all last summer.
I’ve endeavored to learn more “facts” about the family drama of a sclerotic monarchy, in a country I’m not even from, than this man bothered to learn about the desperate cries of justice from people in the nation he lives in. But he is now a juror.
In fact, his ignorance is probably why the prosecution didn’t waste one of its peremptory challenges on him. He hasn’t seen the video. The prosecution is counting on being able to show the jury eight minutes and 46 seconds of Chauvin’s actions, and then have that shocking footage be enough. They’re hoping that while the defense tries to put Floyd on trial instead of their client, that video will even convince other white people to punish a fellow white.
Maybe it will. Maybe even Chemist Clouseau over here will have a normal human reaction once he finally gets around to watching the video. But prosecutors had video of Officer Betty Shelby shooting Terence Crutcher to death on a highway in Oklahoma in 2016, while surrounded by other police and helicopter support, and she was acquitted. They had video of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner to death in broad daylight in 2014, and he wasn’t even charged. They had video of LAPD officers beating the hell out of Rodney King. And those cops were acquitted by a jury of their “peers.” It only takes one white person who thinks the cops should be allowed to hunt and murder Black people to hang a jury.
The jury system is set up by white people, and one of its primary functions is to let white people go free when they kill Black people. Maybe that system will fail this time, allowing justice to be done.
But I wouldn’t count on it.