Will the Damning Case Against Derek Chauvin Be Enough?

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Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis cop whose knee to George Floyd’s neck triggered global protests and a national reckoning over racism and police brutality in the United States, has towering evidence against him. The prosecution presented an airtight case to the jury to go along with the video of Floyd’s death that speaks for itself, as Chauvin’s team struggled to mount a convincing defense against the charges. Heading into the final days of the trial, Chauvin was, as CNN legal analyst Laura Coates put it, his own “last and best and perhaps only hope” of justifying his actions.

But Chauvin on Thursday declined to speak on his own behalf, invoking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to testify on the stand—a reflection, perhaps, of how little there is to say. The video itself told the story: Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes as he struggled for air and cried out for his mother. Over the course of 11 days, prosecutors made clear that the camera didn’t lie. Fellow officers, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, testified against Chauvin. “To continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back—that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by police,” Arradondo said last week. “It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”

Witnesses, in heart-wrenching testimony, described watching helplessly as Floyd was killed. Medical experts for the prosecution, meanwhile, testified that whatever health problems Floyd had, it was the use of force by Chauvin that led to his death. “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” pulmonologist Martin Tobin said on the stand. The defense, meanwhile, argued that Chauvin’s use of force was appropriate and that Floyd’s pre-existing health conditions and drug use was the main factor in his death. Dr. David Fowler, a key witness called by Chauvin’s lawyers, even suggested that carbon monoxide poisoning could have contributed to Floyd’s death, owing to his position near the tailpipe of the cop car—a theory Tobin succinctly rebutted as “simply wrong.” “It’s hard to believe that anyone could buy this fairy tale,” as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote Thursday of Chauvin’s defense. “Fowler’s claim that Floyd died from his preexisting heart condition suffered much more damage under cross-examination than did the much simpler explanation offered by pulmonologist Martin Tobin: that Chauvin crushed the life out of Floyd, as clearly seen on video.”

“We all can see who the victim is,” Robinson added. “His name is not Derek Chauvin.”

Indeed, the Chauvin murder trial has mostly served to affirm what had been obvious since video of Floyd’s death was released. The question, heading into closing arguments next week and jury deliberations, is whether that will be enough. It’s rare enough for charges to be filed in police killings, and rarer still for charges to result in convictions. The cop who killed Daunte Wright last week, just a few miles from where the Chauvin trial was playing out, may have been indicted, and Jason Van Dyke may have been found guilty in 2019 in the murder of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. But the officer who killed Philando Castile in Minnesota was acquitted, the Kenosha cop who wounded Jacob Blake last year is back on patrol, and the Louisville sergeant who was one of the officers who fired upon Breonna Taylor when she was in her own apartment last year has a book deal. The case against Chauvin—who is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter—is convincing and there’s hope that this time will be different. But justice is never a given. “It is very hard to see how this man could be acquitted,” as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes put it Thursday. “And yet…there is a history of police violence against unarmed Black people recorded on camera that has not led to convictions.”

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