Protests erupted around the country in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
By Michael Coard
Black folks have prayed, marched, sat-in, and petitioned in the attempt to stop white cops from rampantly murdering innocent and unarmed Black men, women, and children with impunity. But they keep murdering us. And they keep getting away with murder. Even when it’s on video.
So what are we gonna do if Derek Chauvin is acquitted in the murder of George Floyd, the Black man who was nonchalantly, heartlessly, and slowly strangled to death under Chauvin’s knee for nine minutes 29 seconds in broad daylight?
What are we gonna do if he’s acquitted despite the fact that he murdered Floyd while Floyd was handcuffed behind his back, while he was prostrate face down in the street, while horrified witnesses conspicuously videoed the brutality and pleaded for mercy, while Floyd begged for his life as he was clearly gasping and visibly dying before their (and eventually the world’s) very eyes?
No way, you say? Way, I say! Remember that there was video of the murder of Philando Castile in 2016, but police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the very same state where Chauvin’s trial is taking place.
There was video of the murder of Antwon Rose in 2018, but police officer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted.
There was video of the murder of Terence Crutcher in 2016, but police officer Betty Jo Shelby was acquitted.
There was video of the murder of Alton Sterling in 2016, but police officers Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni were never even charged.
There was video of the murder of Eric Garner in 2014, but police officer Daniel Pantaleo was never even indicted.
There was video of the attempted murder beating of Rodney King in 1991, but police officers Theodore Briseno, Stacey Koon, Lawrence Powell, and Timothy Wind were all acquitted.
That’s why I pose the question, “What if Chauvin is acquitted?” History proves that it’s clear that he could be. And it’s even clearer that there could be a mistrial resulting from a hung jury if even one of the six whites (or any of the other people) on the jury choose to completely ignore the powerful video and the credible eyewitnesses and the imposing mountain of additional irrefutable evidence.
In a sense, Chauvin already won because the prosecutor inexplicably failed to charge first-degree murder. In Minnesota, first-degree murder is codified in Section 609.185 as a “premeditated” criminal homicide and Section 609.18 defines “premeditated” as that which is “considered” or “determined.”
Moreover, the Minnesota Supreme Court in its 1978 State v. Marsyla decision ruled that “Premeditation may be formed at any time, moment, or instant before the killing.”
That time, moment, or instant obviously includes the four minutes and 45 seconds Floyd was crying out and begging for his life plus the 53 seconds he was having seizures plus the three minutes and 51 seconds he was fatally nonresponsive, altogether equaling a combined total of nine minutes 29 seconds. That’s premeditation. That’s first-degree murder. That’s life imprisonment.
The second-degree murder charge that’s been filed against Chauvin is insufficient for two reasons. One reason is that Section 609.19 defines it as an “intentional” criminal homicide “without premeditation” and also as an “unintentional” criminal homicide that occurs “while committing or attempting to commit a felony assault … [e.g., strangling someone]….” The second reason is that, although it carries a potential 40-year sentence, first-time offenders in Minnesota could receive as little as 10 years.
The final charge, second-degree manslaughter, filed against him is legally laughable and inanely inapplicable because Section 609.205 defines it as an act of “negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk and … takes chances of causing death … to another….”
What Chauvin did wasn’t negligence, meaning mere inattentiveness, carelessness, or inadvertence. It was a nearly 10-minute brutal and coldblooded execution. And it deserves much more than this charge’s 10-year sentence that actually could be reduced to about two or three.
If you think this is a case of just one white cop murdering just one innocent Black person, you’re delusional. It’s much more than that. It’s systemic racism throughout America’s police departments and throughout America itself.
Consider this, for example: The largest organization of mostly white cops and mostly white unions, known as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, is paying around $1 million to more than about a dozen white lawyers, led by the white one in the courtroom, to co-sign, I mean condone, I mean defend the white cop who publicly choked a defenseless Black man to death.
And don’t forget that white cop Darren Wilson received $500,000 from a (lynch) mob of white Americans through GoFundMe after he shot and killed unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson.
Oh, by the way, the racist rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the racist rotten tree. Municipal police departments, like those in Minneapolis, Ferguson, Philadelphia, and everywhere else in the U.S., began as “slave patrols.”
The first official one started in 1704 in the Colony of Carolina and they spread throughout the South until 1865.
As documented by Western Michigan University history professor Dr. Sally Hadden in her book “Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas,” the laws creating those patrols deputized civilian white men to engage in the “monitoring … [of] rigid pass requirements for blacks …, breaking up large gatherings … of blacks, … searching slave quarters randomly, [and] inflicting impromptu punishments….” Impromptu punishments like murder by strangulation.
So what are we gonna do if Chauvin’s acquitted? Claude McKay in 1919 answered by writing,
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs
Making their mock at our accursed lot<br<>If we must die, O let us nobly die</em
So that our precious blood may not be shed in vain….
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow….
Like men, we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
In 2021, I’m answering by writing, “Boycott! Boycott! Boycott!”
Boycott all cities that condone murderous cops. Don’t visit those cities as a tourist. Don’t spend a penny at any business in those cities or for any non-essential governmental service in those cities.
Boycott relentlessly and lawfully consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1982 NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware civil rights case that permits all boycotts that are nonviolent and thereby protected by the First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, association, and petition.
Be prepared for a possible acquittal. And then be prepared to do something about it.
Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this column first appeared.
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