“Do you recognize this man?” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell asked the witness as a picture of Officer Derek Chauvin flashed on the screen.
“Yes” the witness whispered, her voice cracking. “That’s the man who was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.”
The witness, a high school student who had just turned 17 years old at the time of George Floyd’s murder, was a bystander to his killing. The court chose not to reveal her name publicly, and neither will the Times.
On May 25, 2020, the witness recalled walking her nine-year-old cousin to the store to buy some snacks. Officer Chauvin’s defense team has attempted to paint the predominantly Black area as dangerous. However, the witness recalled that she had walked to the store “hundreds, maybe thousands of times” and never felt she was in danger.
This day, however, was different. But the danger didn’t come from those who called the neighborhood home.
Chauvin’s defense attorney maintains that the bystanders who gathered around the scene outside of Cup Foods were “unruly”, comparing them to a “mob”. But when asked by the state prosecutor “did you see any violence from the crowd,” the teenage witness responded “no”.
“Did you see any violence anywhere that day?” the prosecutor continued. “Yes,” the witness responded, “from Officer Chauvin and Officer Thao.”
For nearly an hour, this young student often fought back tears as she recalled what she saw on that day.
“I heard George Floyd saying ‘I can’t breathe. Please get off of me,’ the witness told the jury. “He was crying out for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew it was over for him.”
The trauma Black teens endure in the face of racial violence
A recent article from USA Today highlights how the death of George Floyd has deeply traumatized many Black teens across the country, especially in Minneapolis.
“I haven’t even really fully dealt with it,” 17-year-old Marcus Hunter of Minneapolis told the paper. “It’s really just been weighing on my heart. That’s why this trial is such a big deal.”
In an interview over the summer with Vox, Chicago family doctor Brittani James spoke about the trauma young Black men and women are facing.
“These kids are a vulnerable population,” James told reporter Kelly Glass. “Even adults we’re seeing are struggling to put words to the racial trauma and the deep pain they’re experiencing.”
“We had to stare and watch one of us getting murdered. That is PTSD. That is actual and irrefutable racial trauma.”
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad”
According to the young witness who took the stand today, none of the officers on the scene rendered aid to Mr. Floyd. At one point, a bystander in the crowd identified herself as a firefighter. The witness said the bystander pleaded with Officers Chauvin and Thao to check his pulse, but was ignored. When bystanders stepped forward to try and help, the witness recalls Chauvin and other officers reaching for their mace.
“He had this cold look,” she said of Chauvin. “He looked heartless. it seemed as if he didn’t care.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, cross-examined the teenager and asked her about the video she took.“The video you posted went viral. Did that surprise you?”
“Yes” the witness responded.
“It’s changed your life, hasn’t it?”
It wasn’t a viral video that changed this young woman’s life. Nor was it a viral video that has traumatized so many Black boys and girls across this country. It was the brutality and violence of racism that video captured that continues to inflict trauma day after day.
Once Eric Nelson finished his questioning, Jerry Blackwell asked the witness to expand on how this moment changed her life forever.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” she said.
“I look at my brother, my cousins, my uncles, my friends – because they are all Black. I look at them and I think about how it could have been them.”
She paused and took a breath before continuing. Her voice cracking tearfully.
“It’s the nights I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
“But I know it’s not about what I should have done,” she said, presumably pointing now to Officer Chauvin, “it’s about what he should have done.”