A tall and big African-American man, George Floyd graduated from high school and attended college on sports scholarships for several years before dropping out. He was as talented at sports, both basketball and football, as he was as a rap singer at which he attempted to build a career. But hard times caught up with him and for several years he was involved in petty, and sometimes not so petty, crimes. But he finally turned his life around and went to Minneapolis from Houston in search of opportunities. While he continued to battle opioid addiction, he remained employed in various jobs, campaigned against violence and engaged in charitable activities. He had a young daughter and a girlfriend, Courtney Ross. They first met when he saw her crying at a Salvation Army facility. He comforted her and invited her to pray with him.
All racism is built on false narratives. They are easy to conjure up and the consequences can be devastating. Donald Trump’s racist attack on people of Asian descent, designating the coronavirus as “Kung flu” and the “Chinese flu,” has precipitated a swift and devastating surge of anti-Asian violence in the United States. Not too long ago the anti-Islamic campaigns resulted in the mass murder of Sikhs in the US and Muslims at prayers in New Zealand. Anti-semitism motivated the shooting deaths of worshippers at a synagogue in the US.
Sometimes these narratives become so entrenched, over such long periods, that they become difficult to eradicate. In the US they sustained slavery, Jim Crow, and now the mass incarceration and police killing of African-Americans. They are found in India against Muslins and others, in the Hutu/Tutsi carnage in Burundi and Rwanda and more recently in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslims. These narratives exist in many countries as well as in our own, inflamed often by political rhetoric. It has been responsible for nearly sixty years of ethnic violence. There is, of course, always an economic foundation, giving rise to political exploitation.
The images leading up to the killing of George Floyd tell a story far different to the one that the defence team seeks to portray. We see him making purchases without incident at Cup Foods. He may not have been sober, but was not threatening in any way, bantering with the store attendant about sports as he bought cigarettes and paid for it with a $20 bill, allegedly forged but doubtful that he knew.
The scene then changed abruptly. George Floyd is sitting in a car, being confronted by a policeman, with gun drawn, as he fearfully pleaded with the policeman not to shoot him. We later see him standing up being handcuffed. Then he was sitting on the pavement, crying, as he gave his name and spelt it out for a policeman, who did not appear to know how to spell “George.” By then he was no longer being treated as human, or perhaps he was, but as human detritus. Restless in the police car due to claustrophobia, it was only a short step away from the knee on his neck. It is not that Derek Chauvin, on trial for Floyd’s murder, may not have had humanity. It is that he did not see George Floyd as human.
The tropes resulting from these false narratives are on full display in the trial. We heard the distressing excerpts from the cross-examination by the defence of still deeply traumatized prosecution eyewitnesses, one a child, two 18 year-olds, still riddled with guilt, two adult men and an adult woman, most breaking down in tears. The evidence revealed that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, as the small crowd pleaded with him, some angrily, to stop.
Even the medics, when they arrived, had to request Chauvin to remove his knee from George Floyd’s neck, long after Floyd had become limp. References are made about Floyd being a “big” man, who had to be restrained, hinting to the trope of the big, angry, Black man. The anger of the crowd is mentioned as if it were a large unruly mob, instead of a group of about seven persons, several of whom were children. The film shows that Chauvin remained impassive and unperturbed by cries of mercy from the small group, as he looked impassively in their direction, while the torture continued.
The big, Black, angry man, the frightening mob, the drug addicted criminal, or ‘super predator,’ all add up to the racist narrative that is being painted of George Floyd as if it is the trial of George Floyd, for causing his own death. The next stage would be that he did not die from suffocation, but from the drugs in his system.
The jury is being asked to disbelieve a man, lying on the road, being suffocated by a policeman’s knee on his neck, repeatedly complaining that he could not breathe, as he reached back into his childhood, calling out for his long dead mother, vainly invoking that primordial, powerful and enduring of human instincts, a mother’s love, to protect and save him from what he already knew was about to happen – that he was going to die.