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Families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright join together in grief: ‘The world is traumatized’

Oliver Laughland in Minneapolis
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

As court broke for lunch on the 12th day of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, the grounds of Hennepin county government center filled with grieving families.

In a poignant news conference, distraught relatives of Daunte Wright and George Floyd took turns talking about the parallels between the two cases of fatal police violence and the grief they were experiencing in the aftermath. Snow fell and wind whipped the microphones.

“The world is traumatized, watching another African American man being slain. Every day I wake up, I never thought that this world could be in so much disorder like it is now,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, who testified in court on Monday. “Minneapolis, you all can’t sweep this under the rug any more. We’re here and we will fight for justice for this family, just like we’ll fight for justice for our brother.”

To sit through this and watch a video of your loved one dying a thousand times ... nothing prepares you

Philonise Floyd

The civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, now representing both families, was incredulous.

“It is unbelievable, something I cannot fathom, that in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a suburb 10 miles from where the Chauvin trial regarding George Floyd was taking place, that a police officer would shoot and kill another unarmed black man,” Crump said.

He continued: “If ever there was a time where nobody in America should be killed by police, it was during this pinnacle trial of Derek Chauvin, what I believe is one of the most impactful civil rights, police excessive use of force cases in the history of America.

But inside the trial room that day, as Chauvin’s defence began calling its first witnesses, the indignation and profound sorrow over fatal police force seemed distant, despite the few hundred feet separating the court from the assembled mourners.

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Chauvin’s defence lawyer, Eric Nelson, attempted to place George Floyd front and centre by showing evidence of drug use from a 2019 arrest. The defence has alleged that Floyd ingested pills during the incident that ultimately led to his death – essentially, an insinuation that Floyd was responsible for his own demise.

The afternoon’s witness, Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert, told jurors that Chauvin’s use of a knee-to-neck restraint for nine minutes and 29 seconds was justifiable and did not amount to deadly force. He argued that officers are “allowed to overcome your resistance by going up a level to gain control”.

Related: Derek Chauvin trial: defence opens its case with ex-police officer

He told the jury calmly: “I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis police department policy and current standards of law enforcement, in his interactions with Mr Floyd.”

Jurors have already been told by a number of senior officers in the Minneapolis police department, including the chief of police himself, the exact opposite.

Brodd had testified in defence of Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer who shot Laquan MacDonald, a Black teenager, 16 times in 2014. During that testimony, according to local media, Brodd testified that each of Van Dyke’s 16 gunshots was justified. In October 2018, the former officer, who is white, was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Speaking after the earlier news conference, Philonise Floyd told the Guardian about the pain of watching the trial. He winced when asked about what it had felt like to sit through the defence’s case and cautioned that Wright’s family would probably feel the same if the death of the unarmed 20-year-old made it to a trial. “To sit through this and watch a video of your loved one dying a thousand times,” he said. “Nothing prepares you.”