George Floyd: More than just a number

It is essential to acknowledge the limits of our perspectives before we express our opinions about the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who killed George Floyd in May 2020. We experience life through the eyes of the inherently privileged — one writer being fully white, the other being biracial but entirely white-presenting.  As individuals who are tethered to these perspectives, and who only know this case through news articles and sympathy, it is impossible for us truly understand the Black experience in America. Nonetheless, we are appalled, disgusted and horrified by ongoing attacks against the community. 

The brutality used against George Floyd is not up for debate — it is an undeniable fact that he was murdered in a racially perpetrated, senseless act of violence.  However, the manner in which his case is being represented must be criticized. Floyd is not being treated as a human being. Instead, he is being depicted solely as a low-life opioid addict who tried to use a fraudulent twenty dollar bill. The trial has turned a living, breathing man — who had his own share of struggles, successes and strife as all of us do — into three numbers: 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 

There is a consistent pattern of dehumanization that is commonly perpetuated throughout these proceedings. It is seen in the way in which Tamir Rice was suddenly painted not as a child of only 12 years of age, but a thuggish and threatening man. The way in which Eric Garner was no longer a beloved father figure and member of his community, but instead a repeated criminal whose prior arrests were emphasized in the hearings with far more weight than his humanity. The way in which Breonna Taylor was not sleeping peacefully, but was involved in a highly illegal narcotics operation conspiracy. 

The stories of these lives lost are never told with an emphasis on their roles as loving spouses, devoted parents and adored children, but by accentuating the potential that they were at the very least suspicious, if not entirely guilty. This a consistent pattern, and a week into the trial of Chauvin, nothing seems to have changed. 

With each passing day of the trial, Floyd’s life slowly becomes lost in the sea of evidence and blatant attempts to shift a narrative that he never had control of to begin with. The opening statements not only drew the battle lines between the persecution and defense, but additionally laid out the argumentative expectations for the remaining weeks of the trial. March 29, the first day of the trial, was the only one that seemed to truly remember the existence of Floyd as anyone more than a man attempting to buy cigarettes at the Cup Foods corner store. 

Three witnesses took the stand on Monday to recall their shared trauma that stemmed from witnessing the horrific acts. On Thursday, Courteney Ross expressed her absolute devastation at losing the 46 year-old father of five, who had been her partner of three years.  Sadly, these individuals were the only ones who humanized Floyd and brought to life the individual that was lost beyond the courtroom.

It can be somewhat expected that prosecution should emphasize the humanity of the victim while defense continually focuses on Floyd’s drug abuse.  However, this does not justify the abhorrent manner in which the defense team has worked to justify Chauvin’s actions through the evidence that has been presented. 

The lead defense attorney, Eric Nelson, used his statement to review Floyd’s initial autopsy. He provided a detailed account of how Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin’s chief medical examiner, did not see the “telltale signs” of asphyxiation, then promptly followed up by emphasizing the levels of methamphetamine and fentanyl in Floyd’s blood. The defense refers to Floyd’s body as “compromised” prior to Chauvin’s actions and makes every attempt to detach itself from the heart-wrenching reality of the video. The defense is not walking the line between humanity and case evidence, but completely transgressing it in an attempt to reduce Floyd to just another junkie who overdosed. 

There is a clear pattern of dehumanization that is perpetuated throughout these proceedings. Time and time again, Black people are senselessly brutalized and stripped of all humanity on the national stage. Time and time again, we have waited with bated breath for a verdict — any slight indication that the justice system could redeem itself and live up to its name. And time and time again, we have watched the killers walk free, an undeniable and oppressive proclamation that in the eyes of America, Black lives are dispensable. What message does that send to the Black community of America? It is a tiny death each time — an excruciating and constant reminder that ultimately, their perception as individuals is overwhelmingly dictated by their physical appearance and their bodies, and that their autonomy as citizens is subject to breach at any given moment.

Floyd was many things: a kind-hearted individual, a dependable friend and a man loved and admired by all. He was not just a body, a statistic or a story. He was a complex and beloved human being, and to merely remember him in the way he died only serves to vastly discredit everything he lived for.  

(Visited 147 times, 1 visits today)