On Monday, a medical expert testified in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin that George Floyd’s death was, as he put it, “absolutely preventable,” following testimony last week from other experts called by prosecutors who said that Floyd, pinned to the ground by Chauvin for an excruciating length of time before he died, asphyxiated to death.
I haven’t been following Chauvin’s trial closely. It’s felt like weeks of spectacle, horror and death turned into an almost banal courtroom exercise whose outcome, no matter what, will be drenched in righteous and justified sorrow and anger, the difference only in degrees. The hope of so many is for only a small measure of accountability, not justice—one single cop held to some account, and everyone else walking away, including his fellow officers who testified against him, absolving themselves of any responsibility.
Chauvin’s trial feels particularly hollow today. On Sunday afternoon, a police officer in the nearby Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. Daunte was on his way to get a car wash—the car, bought by his parents for him, and in his car, his girlfriend at his side—with money his mother Katie Wright had given him. It’s easy to imagine the sort of everyday joy he might have been feeling—a spring day, and the prospect of a gleaming car. According to his mother, her son was stopped by officers over an air freshener that was hanging from his rearview mirror; police officials claim it was because his car registration had expired, and that they moved to arrest him after finding he had an outstanding warrant.
“All he did was have air fresheners in the car and they told him to get out of the car,” Katie Wright said on Sunday through tears, recounting what her son and his girlfriend had told her over the phone. “He got out of the car, and his girlfriend said they shot him. He got back in the car, and he drove away and crashed, and now he’s dead on the ground since 1:47.” She continued: “Nobody will tell us anything. Nobody will talk to us... I said please take my son off the ground.” “I know my son. He was scared,” his father Aubrey told the Washington Post. Daunte had a two-year-old son and was planning on going back to school to get his GED, but to his father, his 20-year-old son was still a child. “He still [had] the mind of a 17-year-old, because we babied him,” Aubrey said.
On Monday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon painted Wright’s killing by one of his officers as an accident. Body camera footage, one minute of which Gannon released, allegedly shows one of the three police officers there, an unnamed woman, approach Wright after he got back into his car, shouting, “Taser, Taser.” Then: “Holy shit, I just shot him.” After being shot, Wright drove a few blocks before crashing into another car; he died shortly after.
“It is my belief that the officer had their intention to deploy the Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon said at Monday’s press conference. It was, he added, an “accidental discharge” that led to a “tragic death.” Outside the police station where Gannon was speaking, someone had decided to fly a flag with a decidedly different message. As people gathered outside the station after a night of yet more protests and National Guard troops and tear gas and rubber bullets, as news crews did their live reports, the thin blue line waved.