MINNEAPOLIS: Opening statements in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, begin Monday morning in a heavily fortified courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
The trial begins 10 months after Floyd, a Black man, died in May after being held down by police officers on a South Minneapolis street corner in an episode that was captured on a cellphone video and set off protests for racial justice around the nation. Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, ignoring Floyd’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe and his cries for his mother.
For a country that rarely holds police officers accountable for killing people on the job, especially Black people, the trial is a test of whether the criminal justice system has changed after Floyd’s death. The case is the most pivotal police brutality trial since the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing struggle to reform policing and push the nation forward on matters of racial justice, the trial will be fought on the narrower grounds of toxicology reports, medical records and police training manuals. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Above all, the case is likely to turn on one central question: What caused Floyd’s death?
The centerpiece of Chauvin’s defense strategy, as laid out in motions and pretrial arguments, is making the case that Floyd died of a drug overdose — a toxicology report showed fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system — complicated by underlying health conditions.
The prosecution will try to convince the jury that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for so long was a substantial factor in his death, regardless of the amount of drugs in his system and his health problems.