In May last year, in Minneapolis, US, a 46-year-old African-American man named George Floyd was choked to death by a white police officer while being arrested for allegedly using a 20-dollar counterfeit bill. A young woman had the presence of mind to film the entire episode as Derek Chauvin, the police officer in question, pinned down Floyd’s neck with his leg while the latter pleaded that he could not breathe. The camera also showed three white police officers, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas K Lane, either assisting Chauvin in killing Floyd or preventing protesting bystanders from intervening. That video tellingly captured the arrogant look on the police officer’s face as the living and breathing man beneath him, handcuffed and helpless, slowly suffocated to death. Uploaded on the internet, the video sent shockwaves of horror rippling across not only America, but all over the world, and gave rise to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement seeking an end to police brutality and bias against the African-American community in the US. The harsh reality is that Chauvin was no sadistic exception, or George Floyd a solitary victim. In fact, cases of killing of African-Americans repeat themselves with astonishing regularity to be merely coincidental, and reveal in stark terms the systematic racism prevalent in the US. The tragedy is that almost always the perpetrators escape punishment for their actions due to ‘lack of evidence’.
However, on this occasion, the photographic evidence was too real and graphic for the authorities to whitewash the episode and exonerate the culprits with the usual alibi of killing someone in the line of duty. Chauvin at the moment is on trial, charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while the three other officers, who were charged with aiding and abetting him, are to be put on trial later. For almost a week now, viewers across the globe have been watching riveted as the prosecution piles up evidence proving that Chauvin had acted as a veritable, inhuman monster, heedless of the pleas of bystanders to allow his victim to breathe. The defence’s strategy has been predictable; it is to paint Floyd in the worse possible light, as a habitual drug user displaying criminal traits. The prosecutors are attempting to prove that Floyd’s death was due to asphyxiation caused by the police officer blocking his breathing passage, but the defence claims it was due to illegal drugs in Floyd’s system. No doubt it will be up to the jury to decide whether Chauvin is guilty, but the fact remains that it is also the US which is on trial in this case. While a not guilty verdict might result in chaotic riots, Chauvin’s conviction will be a triumph for the Black Lives Matter movement and might even change the manner of policing in the US.