Many of us did not want to watch George Floyd suffer. Not again.
In nearly a year since Floyd’s death, those who mourn for him have tried to move on. Some have marched, protested and held vigils in his memory. We have spoken out as loud as we could.
We have vowed to never give up until justice is served.
Watching former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial on television reminds us why we can never stop fighting for what is right and equitable. But we have always been merely observers, standing on the outside looking in.
Those who stood on the sidewalk and watched the horrific injustice unfold have been on the front line from the start. They bravely stepped up, with their cellphones in hand, to record the killing so the world could have an unobstructed view. They stepped up again during Chauvin’s trial to speak on Floyd’s behalf.
On Tuesday, two of the youngest witnesses — a teenage girl whose video went viral and her 9-year-old cousin — dutifully moved to the forefront. Like every witness to the killing who testified Tuesday, they recounted what happened that day with candor and unfaltering clarity.
In doing so, they once again moved us a few steps further on this arduous journey toward justice.
We cannot fathom the emotional toll on the 9-year-old girl who happened to come upon a killing on her way to buy snacks at the corner store with her older cousin. On the witness stand, she spoke plainly and innocently, the only way a little girl could.
“I saw an officer put the knee on the neck of George Floyd,” she said. “The ambulance had to push him off of him. They asked him nicely to get off him. He still stayed on him. They had some guys take him off of him.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell asked the child how she felt about what she saw.
“I was sad and kind of mad,” she responded.
“And tell us why you were sad and mad,” the prosecutor said.
“Because it felt like he was stopping his breathing, and it was kind of like hurting him,” she said.
The testimony of her 18-year-old cousin, Darnella, struck an emotional chord. She was 17 when she recorded the video that was played around the world.
She has spoken publicly in the past about how someone so young could walk upon such a scene and immediately realize the importance of documenting it. We had not heard her speak of the emotional trauma she experienced in the aftermath.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black,” she said, tearfully. “I look at how that could have been one of them.”
Most Black Americans know exactly what she means.
Over the past months, Floyd’s voice has become less audible to many. Some have forgotten how he cried for mercy, moaned in agony and called out for his mama.
But not Black Americans.
Many of us remain saddled with stress. The pain shows in our eyes. We will never forget what happened to Floyd, because we, too, know that it could happen to us or someone we love.
It is likely that prosecutors will play the videotape of Floyd lying on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck repeatedly. There is no better way to prove to a jury that Floyd’s death was both criminal and inhumane.
Each time we watch it, the story will become more vivid.
The trial has returned Floyd’s death to the forefront of America’s collective mind. Some of us are mourning again. The anger has returned as we are reminded of how we felt when we first saw the video of Floyd on the pavement and Chauvin kneeling on top of him.
Floyd knew he was going to die that day. It is likely that everyone there knew it too.
“They gon kill me, man,” Floyd murmured. “They gon kill me out here.”
He said he couldn’t breathe 27 times. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.”
But a Black man’s dying words aren’t enough to convict a police officer.
We are watching the trial with teary eyes and bated breath. We are hopeful yet apprehensive.
We are anxious to see whether the police killing that prompted America to examine its history of social injustice was a turning point or just a temporary distraction.
We are praying for a positive outcome, but we must prepare for disappointment.
Murder trials with police officers as defendants don’t often go our way. Cops aren’t held to the same standard as other killers, particularly when the victims are Black Americans. They are protected, even if their guilt is obvious.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson seemed to suggest that there is something wrong with the anger the witnesses felt while watching the killing unfold. Perhaps, he will try to claim that Chauvin felt threatened by the crowd, which became increasingly loud.
But the onlookers were helpless in that situation. They were as helpless as Floyd was, lying prone on the ground with Chauvin holding him down.
Darnella said she is haunted by her helplessness. She wishes she somehow could have done more while watching Floyd lying in the street “terrified, begging for his life.”
That’s how brave people sometimes feel.
But she seems to have come to terms with the fact that Floyd’s death was not her fault. Chauvin and the officers who stood by and did nothing deserve all the blame.
“It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting with him. Not saving his life,” she testified.
“(But) it’s not what I should have done. It’s what (Chauvin) should have done.”