Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Three in a row! The world gasped a collective sigh of relief. A shout out to ALL who’ve been boots on the ground. Solidarity and respect to our amazing leaders, speakers, medics, marshals, music truck, protestors, independent media, allies and witnesses, most notably the youth among them. You are heroes! You are hope and inspiration. You are a Movement and Revolution. If only there was time to tell each of your stories; all you’ve contributed and sacrificed deserves the highest recognition.
I had to take a break last Wednesday for another day in court as a pool reporter. Filming constantly for the past weeks, I simply haven’t had time to write out my reflection until now. To put my remarks in context, remember, that was three days after Daunte Wright was killed during a traffic stop, which included a citation for an air freshener. Let me take you back to another historic day of this landmark trial…
Allow me to clear the air! I’m out here today, 4/14/2021, hoping I don’t lose my life from air freshener dangling in my rear view mirror; hoping this drive will not be my last. Less than 72 hours after Daunte Wright was tragically killed by a white police officer, I’m on my way to the Hennepin County Court House on assignment in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Thoughts are racing around in my mind. Chief Arradando’s earlier testimony about how cops are to set an example and treat people with kindness and dignity is one. The fact that an officer should know how to distinguish a service weapon from a taser is another. The reality that I’ve been at vigils, press conferences, protests, and city council meetings non-stop the past four days with barely any sleep has left me physically and mentally exhausted. But I can’t let that deter me from going to court.
This is not how I was expecting to spend Ramadhan. Fasting this month cleanses the body and soul. It’s a chance for spiritual growth, a time to study, seek forgiveness, and strengthen my relationship with God. It’s a new beginning on a yearly basis. Yet sadly, even though I pray for peace, I know I’m not living in a peaceful world. I pray for freedom. I want to know how that looks and feels like. White folks don’t have to worry about it, while I’ve never truly had it. Now that I’ve arrived downtown, these thoughts have to be set aside in order to get to work.
Derek Chauvin is dressed in a gray suit with a light blue shirt and tie, and black shoes. His attorney, Eric Nelson, begins before 9:00 making a motion for judgement of acquittal. He claimed the State introduced doubt because their witnesses varied in opinions and contradicted one another in regards to use of force and cause of death. No one really expected the judge to dismiss the case. In reality, this is a standard move by every defense and serves more as a record in case of an appeal. Judge Cahill denied the motion, stating that even if inconsistencies exist, whether major or minor, it is up to the jury to decide. However, by hearing the points Attorney Nelson brought up, the prosecution may be able to figure out defense strategies at closing arguments, giving them an opportunity to gather their thoughts and concoct final strategies.
At 9:00 George Floyd’s associate, Maurice Hall, entered the courtroom with counsel. The jury was not present at the time. Mr. Hall walked in all dressed up with a large tan trench coat, dark pinstriped suit with a black shirt and shoes, and a neatly braided hairdo. Gold framed glasses and a diamond earring in his left ear added a bit of bling. His attorney indicated that he was there to verify that if called to testify, he would plead the 5th. Judge Cahill asked him directly if he would be willing to answer a limited line of questions, focusing on how George Floyd looked on the day of his death. Hall did not agree, stating he has other open personal matters he’s dealing with.
Maurice Hall is presumed to have sold drugs to George Floyd. Knowing Mr. Hall will not be put on the stand, Derek Chauvin looked at a loss. If the jury believes drugs are a contributing factor to George Floyd’s death, the defense can no longer hope to pin blame on Maurice Hall. He is excused and leaves the building.
With those matters settled, the jury was escorted into the courtroom around 9:15. The defense called Dr. David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist certified in South Africa and the USA. It took more time than usual to relate an impressive resume to a jury. He previously worked as the Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland, and was a professor at John Hopkins and the University of Maryland. His published works number around 100, and he’s testified in hundreds of court cases.
George Floyd’s brother, Rodney, arrived at 9:54. For the rest of the day, he’d have to look around in disgust and frustration as he listened to his brother being crucified again, his reputation and parts of his life being torn apart.
Dr. Fowler is also a consultant for The Forensics Panel, an independent, national organization that evaluates through peer review with the intent to ensure a case is diligently and thoroughly processed. It uses a multi-disciplinary approach, assigning individuals who specialize in areas such as behavioral health, pulmonology, toxicology, emergency medicine, etc. Once a group of their specialists come to a conclusion on a case, it is presented to their panel for evaluation and critique.
Dr. Fowler went into extensive detail when answering questions for the defense. He was relaxed and exuded confidence, easily engaging the jury. While his South African accent is a mix of mellow and melodious, dare I say he was somewhat of a chatterbox.
In assessing the death of George Floyd, Dr. Fowler testified that he died during his restraint from sudden heart failure due to disease rather than loss of oxygen. He indicated that George Floyd’s heart was large and blamed high blood pressure and narrow arteries. He also concluded that contributing factors to Mr. Floyd’s death were drugs in his system and being exposed to carbon monoxide from lying in close proximity to the squad car’s exhaust.
During cross examination by the prosecution, Attorney Blackwell was on fire. It reminded me of an elder, a grandmother who pulls down a kid's pants, spanks him and sends him back to his room. Mr. Blackwell began asking Dr. David Fowler how he was doing and stated he had a few questions. He emphasized, “As a matter of fact, I have more than a few questions.” Blackwell basically asked Dr. Fowler: You are under oath, correct? Which means you have to be truthful? That you cannot mislead the jury? That you need to stick to the facts? But you come around here cherry picking, when you need to be fair and unbiased. Isn’t it true that as a physician, you must stick to the facts?
Blackwell proceeded to point out that Dr. Fowler only cited Chauvin’s body weight of 145 pounds in his report. He asked Fowler if he considered his body armor, his bulletproof vest, gun, taser, belt, hand cuffs, mace and more. I bet the additional weight is probably 60 pounds. Y’all know that added up to plenty more pounds of pressure. And so did all the jurors, for they were busy taking notes. I said to myself: Blackwell is doing an incontestable job unraveling the defense’s case.
Attorney Blackwell went on to ask: Isn’t it true that George Floyd was sandwiched between the pavement and Derek Chauvin? Dr. Fowler thought long and hard, hesitating to answer. He took a deep breath and changed his body position, as if sinking into the chair. He had no choice but to reply in the affirmative. In so many words, he had to recant former statements regarding the load placed upon George Floyd’s neck.
Dr. Fowler also had to avow there was no data to prove the squad car was on, so into thin air went the carbon monoxide poisoning theory. Blackwell held up forensic pathology textbooks which Dr. Fowler had referred to, pointing out that the factors in the cited cases had no similarities to Chauvin’s kneeling on the neck and thus irrelevant.
Attorney Blackwell asked Dr. Fowler if during testimony he had agreed with Eric Nelson that George Floyd had a Fentanyl pill in his mouth at the time of arrest. Dr. Fowler replied in the affirmative. Blackwell then showed a video of George Floyd chewing as he browsed the isles inside Cup Foods. Blackwell asked Fowler if he would agree that it appeared to be chewing gum. Fowler did agree, and still shots also backed up that analysis. There was also no proof of Floyd spitting anything out, nor was a pill ever found in his stomach. In fact, the 19 mg of Fentanyl found is his system was a very low dose, in range of a doctor’s legal prescription.
During many of Blackwell’s questions, Dr. Fowler’s shoulders would drop, and he would place his hand or fingers over his mouth while contemplating. At other times he was like a fish out of water, with a gaping mouth. Fowler would often try to explain away an answer, and Attorney Blackwell would have to gently remind him that it was only a yes or no question.
During a poignant line of reasoning, Mr. Blackwell pointed out to Dr. Fowler that if pressure was applied to someone’s neck and was squeezed until that person became unresponsive, it would cause irreversible brain damage and ultimately fatal arrhythmia. Therefore, lack of oxygen, not the heart itself, was the determining factor. Dr. Fowler kept trying to give his analysis, and yet again, Blackwell reminded him it was a yes or no answer. After five minutes of having a knee on his neck, George Floyd no longer had a pulse. Blackwell looked at Derek Chauvin as he questioned Dr. Fowler about medical intervention. Fowler agreed that if aid had been rendered, George Floyd would probably still be alive. You can change the frame, but the picture will always remain the same. Murder is murder!
Most would agree it was a valiant attempt by Eric Nelson when he had his star witness, Dr. Fowler, on the stand. Yet in no time at all, the prosecution effectively tore down many of the doubts Nelson hoped the jury would buy. Because it was late in the day, approximately 3:45, when Fowler’s testimony and cross examination finally finished, Judge Cahill dismissed the jury. At that point, it was a flip of the coin whether Chauvin would decide to take the stand. Thus, we were left in anticipation of what witness the next day would bring.
Yesterday, 4/21/2021, the verdict became history. Tomorrow will be a mystery. But today is the way of Lyfe on Lyfe terms. A day in which I must honor those who consistently speak power to truth, with data to back it up, and prove it in theirs action. Foremost among them are Racial Justice Network (Dr. Nekima Levy Armstrong), Communities United Against Police Brutality (Michelle Gross), CAIR-MN (Jaylani Hussein), Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence (Toshira Garaway Allen), Minnesota Justice Coalition (Johnathon McClellan), Black Lives Matter, St Paul (Chauntyll Allen), Black Lives Matter, Minneapolis (Monique Cullars Doty), Minneapolis NAACP (Angela Rose Myers), MN Spokesman Recorder (Mel Reeves), Minnesota Freedom Fund (Elijzer Darris), Move For Justice News, Blck Media (Georiga Fort), Margaret S. There are so many others. My apologies that I can’t name y’all. My heart’s been filled with grief, but today I find a bit of relief and pray we are moving in the right direction.