The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin has begun in Minneapolis, where Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder, as well as manslaughter, for killing George Floyd in May 2020 by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. The death of Floyd, who was a 46-year-old Black man and father originally from Houston, Texas, sparked international protests calling for racial justice. We air excerpts from the first day of the trial, including opening statements from special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, and dramatic witness testimony from the Minneapolis 911 dispatcher, Jena Scurry, who alerted a police supervisor after seeing live surveillance footage showing officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time, and Donald Williams, a mixed martial artist, who described seeing Derek Chauvin using what he called a “blood choke” on Floyd.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Minneapolis, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin has begun. Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder, as well as manslaughter, for killing George Floyd last May by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. George Floyd was a 46-year-old father who was originally from Houston, Texas. His death sparked international protests calling for racial justice.
During opening statements, special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell made the case that the white officer, Derek Chauvin, should be found guilty of murder. A warning to our audience: Blackwell’s presentation contains graphic descriptions of police violence.
JERRY BLACKWELL: You will learn that on May 25th of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd. …
So, let’s begin by focusing then on what we will learn about this nine minutes and 29 seconds. And you will be able to hear Mr. Floyd saying, “Please, I can’t breathe. Please, man. Please,” in this nine minutes and 29 seconds. You will see that as Mr. Floyd is handcuffed there on the ground, he is verbalizing 27 times, you will hear, in the four minutes and 45 seconds, “I can’t breathe. Please, I can’t breathe.”
You will see that Mr. Chauvin is kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck and back. He has one knee on his neck, and the knee on his back is intermittently off and on on his back, as you will be able to see for yourself in the video footage.
You will hear Mr. Floyd as he’s crying out. You hear him at some point cry out for his mother, when he’s being squeezed there. He was very close to his mother, you will learn. You will hear him say, “Tell my kids I love them.” You will hear him say — about his fear of dying, he says, “I’ll probably die this way. I’m through. I’m through. They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me, man.” You will hear him crying out, and you will hear him cry out in pain: “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts.” You will hear that for yourself. “Please, I can’t breathe. Please, your knee on my neck.”
You will hear it, and you’ll see at the same time, while he’s crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves. The knee remains on his neck. The sunglasses remain undisturbed on his head. And it just goes on.
You will hear his final words, when he says, “I can’t breathe.” Before that time, you will hear his voice get heavier. You will hear his words further apart. You will see that his respiration gets shallower and shallower and finally stops, when he speaks his last words, “I can’t breathe.”
And once we have his final words, you’ll see that for roughly 53 seconds, he is completely silent and virtually motionless, with just sporadic movements. You’re going to learn those sporadic movements matter greatly in this case, because what they reflect, Mr. Floyd was no longer breathing when he’s making these movements. You learn about something in this case called an anoxic seizure. It is the body’s automatic reflex when breathing has stopped due to oxygen deprivation. We’ll be able to point out to you when you’ll see the involuntary movements from Mr. Floyd that are part of an anoxic seizure.
Not only that, you’re going to learn about something that’s called agonal breathing. When the heart has stopped, when blood is no longer coursing through the veins, you will hear the body gasp as an involuntary reflex. We’ll point out to you when Mr. Floyd is having the agonal breathing, again, as a reflex, involuntary reflex, to the oxygen deprivation.
So, we learn here that Mr. Floyd at some point is completely passed out. Mr. Chavin continues on as he had: knee on the neck, knee on the back. You will see he does not let up and he does not get up, for the remaining, as you can see, three minutes and 51 seconds.
During this period of time, you will learn that Mr. Chauvin is told that they can’t even find a pulse of Mr. Floyd. You’ll learn he’s told that twice. They can’t even find a pulse. You will be able to see for yourself what he does in response. You will see that he does not let up and that he does not get up. Even when Mr. Floyd does not even have a pulse, it continues on.
It continues on, ladies and gentlemen, even after the ambulance arrives on the scene. The ambulance is there, and you’ll be able to see for yourself what Mr. Chauvin is doing when the ambulance is there. You can compare — you’ll be able to compare how he looks in this photograph to how he looked in the first four minutes and 45 seconds: same position, doesn’t let up, and you’ll see he doesn’t get up.
The paramedic from the ambulance comes over. You’ll be able to see this in the video. He checks Mr. Floyd for a pulse. He has to check him for a pulse, you’ll see, with Mr. Chauvin continuing to remain on his body at the same time — doesn’t get up even when the paramedic comes to check for a pulse and doesn’t find one. Mr. Chauvin doesn’t get up.
You will see that the paramedics have taken the gurney out of the ambulance, have rolled it over next to the body of Mr. Floyd, and you’ll be able to see Mr. Chauvin still does not let up, doesn’t get up. And you will see it wasn’t until such time as they start — they want to move the lifeless body of George Floyd onto the gurney, only then does Mr. Chauvin let up and get up. And you’ll see him drag Mr. Floyd’s body and unceremoniously cast it onto the gurney.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell giving part of his opening argument in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, the 46-year-old African American father. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, defended the officer’s actions.
ERIC NELSON: And you will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career. The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.
AMY GOODMAN: Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, also disputed the charge that Chauvin’s actions led to the death of George Floyd.
ERIC NELSON: And this will ultimately be another significant battle in this trial: What was Mr. Floyd’s actual cause of death? The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline throwing — flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier in the trial, special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell acknowledged George Floyd struggled with an opioid addiction, but argued the evidence shows he died from excessive force, not a drug overdose.
The first witness called in the trial was Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry. She explained to prosecutor Matthew Frank that she alerted a police supervisor after seeing live surveillance footage showing officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time.
JENA SCURRY: I just remember looking up and seeing that the situation hadn’t changed.
MATTHEW FRANK: Do you recall approximately how long that was?
JENA SCURRY: No. It was long enough — it was long enough that I could look back multiple times.
MATTHEW FRANK: And so, when you did look back, still on the ground, like depicted here, essentially?
JENA SCURRY: Correct.
MATTHEW FRANK: And what did you think about this when you looked back and saw that it hadn’t changed?
JENA SCURRY: I first asked if the screens had frozen.
MATTHEW FRANK: Why did you ask that?
JENA SCURRY: Because it hadn’t changed.
MATTHEW FRANK: OK. And did you find that it had frozen?
JENA SCURRY: No.
MATTHEW FRANK: How did you —
JENA SCURRY: I was told that it was not frozen.
MATTHEW FRANK: Did you see the screen change yourself?
JENA SCURRY: Yes, I saw the persons moving.
MATTHEW FRANK: So, what did you start thinking at that point?
JENA SCURRY: Something might be wrong.
MATTHEW FRANK: Why?
JENA SCURRY: We don’t get these videos often, or, you know, video at all, unless it’s looking at the bridge or just looking at people walking. We very rarely get incidents where police are actively on a scene. And they had changed. They had come from the back of the squad to the ground. And my instincts were telling me that something’s wrong, something was not right. I don’t know what, but something wasn’t right.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry. She said she had never called a sergeant for an issue like this before.
Another witness called on Monday was Donald Williams, a mixed martial artist, who described seeing Derek Chauvin using what he called a “blood choke” on George Floyd. He was questioned by prosecutor Matthew Frank.
MATTHEW FRANK: And as you observed it, what are you seeing and hearing?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Well, once I get there, I hear an older guy saying, “It’s going to be OK. Quit resisting arrest. They’re going to get you up and put you in the car.” And I’m just hearing people, different people, actually, vocalizing their concerns to the officer, and hearing George on the ground pretty much pleading for his life, saying he’s sorry, “I can’t breathe,” “I want my mom,” “Just please let me up,” and things like that.
MATTHEW FRANK: Can you describe what you saw of Mr. Floyd’s condition as time progressed here?
DONALD WILLIAMS: As time progressed, when I first — like I said, when I first arrived on the scene, Mr. Floyd was vocalizing his sorryness and his pain and his distress that he was going through. The more that the knee was on his neck and shimmyings were going on, the more you’re seeing Floyd fade away, slowly fade away. And like a fish in a bag, you’re seeing his eyes slowly, you know, pale out and, again, slowly roll to the back of his eyes.
MATTHEW FRANK: Mr. Williams, from that vantage point depicted in Exhibit 17, that officer, do you see that person present in the courtroom today?
DONALD WILLIAMS: That’s correct. He’s standing right there.
MATTHEW FRANK: Your Honor, I ask the record to reflect he’s identified the defendant.
AMY GOODMAN: Donald Williams said when he called out to Chauvin that the officer was using a blood choke, a term from mixed martial arts, Chauvin looked up at him. Williams said, “It’s the only time he looked at me, when I said it was a blood choke.” He said, “We looked at each other dead in our eyes. When I said it, he acknowledged it,” Williams said.
Those are excerpts from the opening day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd. When we come back, we speak to Nekima Levy Armstrong, the former president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Stay with us.