I had a dream last night about George Floyd. He was at Cup Foods and speaking fairly clearly to cops about his fear of being put in a police car. The police were also calm and used common sense to figure out that the $20 bill likely wasn’t a fake, and even if it was, this was a tiny infraction. In my dream, the Minneapolis police treated George Floyd as if he were a white man in an affluent neighborhood — it was like all of the police interactions I have ever witnessed personally.
My dream version had the cops letting Mr. Floyd wait outside, by the front of the store while they talked to the management — he agreed to stay there, and he did. Only two officers were present, and Derek Chauvin was never called to the scene in my version. They gave Mr. Floyd the benefit of the doubt as they have always done with me, as they have always done with my white friends, and George Floyd had a tiny bit of glow and was very much alive.
I am a trained attorney, a legal professional — and one thing we are taught to do is never draw assumptions unless you can prove them. I have made a point since the Derek Chauvin murder trial began to wait and see what the defense would present that might mitigate the charges and provide more context about what these officers were thinking.
After seeing just three days of evidence and testimony from the prosecution, I know now from a legal standpoint there is no new explanation that would explain the cold and calculated moves of former officer Chauvin. The defense has no place to go — no reasonable person would have put a knee on the neck of a man for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, continuously employing a technique to dig his knee in further.
Everyone can clearly see from the video what the officer’s intent was. The defense has done nothing so far to show me they have a strategy involving a legal premise or evidence that would exculpate Derek Chauvin. Knowing that Chauvin is guilty from a legal standpoint this early on is not the only thing I know now — I also know, in my opinion, Derek Chauvin is guilty of First Degree Murder.
I understand why the prosecution didn’t charge the case fully because the risk of Chauvin getting off completely was too great. In Arizona, they allow lesser included charges to be levied with the highest charge so that the jury can choose the level of egregiousness, so going after first-degree murder does not risk a conviction on the second or third-degree or even manslaughter. Minnesota should change its law.
I have now sat through three full days of testimony, and it is pretty difficult to watch the events being revisited by the witnesses, some of whom are still children. Yesterday a 61-year-old gentleman, with a Third Grade education, testified about what he saw and it was wrenching (see video above). Imagine being an older Black man in this country, living through what he must have, and then seeing something right in front of him that shows how little we’ve progressed as a country and as human beings. My heart broke a little for him.
I have now watched the life slowly drain from George Floyd’s body from so many different vantage points, and the only thing new this is showing me is the number of trained professionals who had the chance to step in and do the right thing but didn't. I’m also livid about the store manager forcing his young employee to go outside twice to confront a man who was much larger than he was with a threat of $20 coming out of his paycheck, but that is another article for another day.
Today I’m going to watch the Chauvin trial proceedings for the fourth day — I am compelled to do that. I love watching courtroom proceedings, and I often say I would be fine to sit through a day of traffic court because the courtroom and the process itself make me feel content. That is likely because I grew up watching my mom prosecute big cases, and later when she was elected as a judge, I would go with her to the courthouse all day and sit in the courtroom and watch all of it.
I remember thinking to myself how lucky so many defendants were to have their case in front of such a thoughtful and compassionate judge, who understood human foibles and their true cost. In one instance, I got to watch my mother award the full custody of a woman’s children back to her after authorities had taken them away.
The woman spent nearly two years getting clean, learning about her addiction, and appearing periodically in front of my mom so that each step of her rehabilitation could be recorded. She looked no different than any other suburban, white mother. Had you seen her that day with her children, you would have assumed she was just happy and crying because her kids were returning from summer camp or a long trip. She and her children could have been any of us.
My mom told me afterward in her chambers after we were both fixing the mascara we had cried off, that this is the reason you never give up on people. If only someone like that — with authority over the police — had been present to help George Floyd that day. If only I could have been there to help George Floyd that day.
I keep thinking, “if only,” and I have imagined how I would try to handle it a million times, and each time, Mr. Floyd is finally treated with the basic human dignity he deserved, even if he had to be detained or questioned. If only someone with authority were present every day to help every person of color in this country with law enforcement interactions. If only we didn’t still need to wish for that.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC Radio. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @mamasreallyrule.
Paid subscriptions and one-time tributes embedded in each article allow me to keep publishing critical and informative work that is sometimes made available to the public — thank you. If you like this piece and want to support independent journalism further, you can forward this article to others, get a paid subscription or gift subscription, or donate once, as much as you like today.