From the very beginning, the case against Derek Chauvin has been driven by the mob. It was a small mob gathered outside of Cup Foods on Memorial Day last year who turned a group of police officers trying to subdue a giant ODing felon into an international incident. It was a larger mob that torched Minneapolis and made the current prosecution inevitable. It is a mob outside the Hennepin County Courthouse which keeps the embarrassing sham of a trial moving forward. The legal question in the Chauvin case is so simple as to be boring: Did Officer Chauvin use excessive force on the George Floyd while subduing him? There is an honest manslaughter charge that could be prosecuted out of this question. Only the mob could turn it into the murder charges Chauvin now faces. The mob is central to the current case, and the Attorney General Keith Ellison knows this. If the jurors unite themselves to the mob, the State will get their conviction.
The State tipped its hand as early as its opening statement last Monday. For a trial that will last many weeks, the opening statements of both the State and the defense were astoundingly short. The State focused heavily on the nine-minute cellphone video of the incident, the video all the jurors and everyone who cares about the case has seen innumerable times. The video is incendiary, and it is easy to see how a group of rabble could be roiled up by it. It fits the BLM narrative: That racist cops have so much power that they can murder with impunity on the streets of Minneapolis. But as evidence, it is equivocal. If Chauvin knew he was being videotaped (as he undoubtedly did), how stupid did he have to be to commit such a blatant murder on a crowded city street? The video is evidence that Chauvin was acting in a way he thought was proper. It shows the legal question is one of degrees, not cold-blooded murder.
During its opening arguments, the State displayed to the jury the picture of an ugly unemotive Floyd, that one now omnipresent in Minneapolis and every urban area. Why that picture? The State has the ability to enter what is called “spark of life” evidence, which allows the State to enter pictures and testimony of what Floyd was actually like in life. Why not a picture of him at a ballgame, or fishing, or mowing the lawn? The State doesn’t want that living, breathing creature in the courtroom, but the ugly mug under which the cities have burned.
After calling the initial 911 responder, the State went to work calling members of the first small mob to the witness stand, one by one.
This did not go smoothly. The second witness was a blue-haired woman who worked at the Safeway across from Cup Foods and captured some of the incident on video. She was clearly not prepared, looking sleepy, almost inebriated. Such a witness is amusing for cable TV viewers, but is exasperating for anyone actually involved with the trial. The State has an army of attorneys working on its behalf, but they apparently can’t spare any time for witness preparation.
The next witness, Donald Williams, was an MMA fighter, and heckled Chauvin and the other officers during the incident. In an embarrassing display, the State tried again and again to get in Williams’s testimony as quasi-medical evidence, attempts the judge rightly smacked down. He claimed not to have been angry even after threatening to beat up the officers. Williams came off as a charismatic jerk, the kind of guy who can tell a police officer he’s going to shoot himself and claim he doesn’t mean that officer any harm. He wore what appeared to be a Black Lives Matter shirt underneath his dress shirt. He clearly saw himself as an expert over what he saw last Memorial Day, and was almost offended when the judge and defense attorney, as a matter of law, disagreed with him.
The State then called some young women who were members of that original mob outside of Cup Foods. Though now eighteen, the State brought in a lady prosecutor to talk to them like little girls. “How did it make you feel?” and “What impact has it had on you?” This is textbook irrelevant evidence. But strictly speaking, many of these witnesses are not even necessary, given the incident is all on video. The purposes of calling these witnesses is to keep alive the initial anger and confusion of the mob, not establish facts.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, gave an underwhelming opening statement. It was bizarrely short; it could have gone on for hours and not been too long. The State is hoping the jurors act like a mob. Nelson’s job is to make sure they don’t–in fact, to make them indignant that the State should treat them as such. This is not that tall of an order. The State’s irrational argument relies on the mob mentality, and that relies on the cult of George Floyd. Insert just some of the basic facts about the man, such that he was high on fentanyl at the time, and the cult is broken, and a rational person begins to wonder, What else have they been lying to me about?
He had a chance to change the narrative, which even the liberal jurors are tiring of. Instead, Nelson wasted time quibbling about “Bates Stamping” and probable cause, when he should have been forming a narrative of his own. He did little towards humanizing Chauvin or properly humanizing Floyd–reminding us he was a man and not a god. He has been better on cross-examination, but that is largely owing to the ludicrous things the State is trying to get out of its witnesses.
The last witness called Tuesday was a chubby female EMT, another bystander outside Cup Foods harassing and second-guessing the police. Nelson has been nothing but courteous to the witnesses, but the EMT couldn’t help but snipe at him and the judge. Williams the MMA fighter did the same. Both the EMT and Williams want their initial snap judgments and limited expertise to control the case. They and the rest of that little mob condemned Chauvin months ago. One can forgive them for being so disrespectful towards court procedure and the substantive law. The State is doing the same thing.