As America watched the cold blooded murder of George Floyd last summer, the graphic and horrifying scene spilled into our living rooms with stunning brutality, the country uttered a collective gasp. Even my Trump loving relatives - at first - were quick to say this was blatant, inexcusable murder - an execution in broad daylight, pure and simple.
That was the weight of this video. Of course it didn't take the right wing media long to walk their viewers down another path - to slowly, step by step, do what they always do and blame the victim. I watched with dismay as my parents, who harbor many racist attitudes, acknowledged the wrong done to Floyd in those first days, only to visit each week and hear the metamorphosis of their views as Floyd's past was dredged up by conservative pundits. I listened as they dismissed the attention to Floyd's murder as the "liberal media" using race to divide us. I heard all the same old cliches - that there is no such thing as racism - that it's all a media manipulation - that there is only one race - the human race - and other bullshit always brazenly spit by old white people who have lived their whole privileged lives free from ever experiencing racism.
The right wing media didn't stop there. They tore down Breonna Taylor saying "yeah its sad but when you hang out with drug dealers you sometimes get caught in the crossfire". No matter that she wasn't with a drug dealer. No concern that she was at home innocently sleeping in her own bed when she was murdered by incompetent police who were at the wrong house. All that matters was she was black and had, at some point in her life, made a mistake - therefore making her, like Floyd, what Noam Chomsky calls an "unworthy" victim.
Of course all old white Fox viewers became instantly enamoured with Candice Owens, famous for being a black woman who appears on Fox and makes YouTube videos blaming black people for their own problems - because nothing makes a white person feel more justified in their racism than when a person of color endorses their racist ideology. "Look Candice Owens even says I'm not racist - I'm right!"
Owens even defended the totally unjustified, modern day lynching of Ahmed Aubrey in at the hands of three racists in her YouTube "analysis" of the incident. Owens completely ignores the multiple felonies of the racist attackers (who were so unconcerned about facing consequences for their actions they record a video themselves committing the felonies) - while simultaneously trying to cast suspicion on Aubry's actions, suggesting he looked like he was running away from the alleged trespass/theft not merely jogging. Her evidence? She said he was wearing boots, not running shoes. Which in fact, was not even true.
As disgusting and depressing as all of this is, the defense offered this week in the trial of Derek Chauvin was even more revolting. Chauvin's Attorney Eric Nelson meandered pathetically through a myriad of weak attacks on the prosecution's case, flailing between the extremes of presenting Chauvin as a man in complete control of the scene, calmly following procedures to an outnumbered officer in desperate peril, surrounded by an angry hysterical mob who could attack him at any moment.
But as I listened to Nelson develop his argument, the truly terrifying proposal he was constructing crystalized as he questioned the use of force experts on Tuesday. The idea that Chauvin, the officer who committed the murder, can not really be judged by any of us - he is abolve judgement from average citizens, fellow police officer and even experts - why? Because Chavin held the unique position of being the only person who was there, on the scene, who was the in all powerful position of being the authority on scene, the highest man with a badge and a gun, whose perceptions of reality determined all decisions about what would happen that day - including whether George Floyd would live to see another day. No one else in the universe meets all of those criteria. And Nelson's arguement is building to the conclusion that this unique position is by design so despite any facts that may support Chauvin committed murder, we simply lack the capacity to question him, because we are not him. I call this the "God defense"
Nelson was unable to deny the brutal video played over and over from multiple angles, much of it never seen before. Witness after witness, many of them seasoned officers with rank, talked about how Floyd posed absolutely no threat to Chauvin and should have been given aid. Bystanders helplessly talked of how they begged for Floyd's life to be spared. How could Nelson possibly defend Chauvin against all of this? He had to have the jury see Chauvin as having some anointed position above these other officers and witnesses.
Nelson depicting the witnesses "angry mob" was risky because the jury just witnessed their emotional testimony and like the jurors, these witnesses are from various backgrounds and did not choose to be participants in this event. The jury are human beings and may share some empathy with these witnesses. But with so much against Chauvin, Nelson had no other choice. He clearly couldn't prove that Floyd was a danger, so he had to make the jury see the onlookers as a "threat", and a least as ignorant bystanders who don't understand police or why police "have" to take the actions they do.
Some of Nelson's attempts blew up in his face. When questioning off duty EMT Genivieve Hansen who desperately tried to persuade officers to let her check Floyd's pulse, Nelson pressed her to admit she was angry. Her response?
"I don't know if you've seen anybody killed but it's upsetting."
Her answer was not only blunt, but her anger was palpable. The audacity of Nelson to portray Hansen, a bystander who begged to help, as a threat - was a disaster. If the jury did see her as being angry, I can only imagine they also saw a motion was justified - righteous anger. That was on day 2.
And who could forget the testimony of Charles McMillan, the older black man who broke down in tears, another onlooker who rather than being an adversary to Chauvin tried to tell Floyd to comply with the police. Hardly a threatening figure despite his harsh words for Chauvin after the incident. That was day 3.
But on day 7 as Nelson struggled through the obstacle course of testimony constructed by other officers outlining the multiple violations of training, policy and procedure by Chauvin - he made a shocking assertion.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).