Minneapolis police are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn. The video was shown as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, March 29, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the death of Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool, File)

Minneapolis police are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn. The video was shown as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, March 29, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the death of Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool, File)

Chauvin’s trial leaves many Black viewers emotionally taxed

‘The witnesses have been grieving and suffering for the last 10 months. And we’ve all been grieving, too’

For some it’s too much to watch. Others just can’t turn away.

The televised trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, has provoked strong emotions among many Black men and women — all tinged with an underlying dread that it could yield yet another devastating disappointment.

For many, it has brought back memories of the disturbing video of Floyd’s last moments as he gasped for breath with Chauvin’s knee on his neck. The video galvanized protests in cities across the U.S. and the world, as the words “Black Lives Matter” took hold.

“I had to mute the TV,” said Lisa Harris, 51, of Redford Township, just west of Detroit. “Hearing Mr. Floyd continue to say he can’t breathe and call for his mother — it was a lot. It’s been a lot to watch.”

Steven Thompson remembers closely watching the 2012 trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and feeling blindsided. Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic, was acquitted on all counts in the unarmed Black teen’s death, including second-degree murder.

“I didn’t expect that outcome,” Thompson, 35, said. “But I’m a lot less ignorant now.”

Thompson is choosing not to watch the trial of Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged with murder and manslaughter, even though he feels there is a strong case against him.

“I definitely have a fear of being let down. And instead of investing my time and energy into it now, knowing how these things go, I’d rather be pleasantly surprised,” the Los Angeles resident said.

Marlene Gillings-Gayle said she had planned not to watch the trial to preserve her peace of mind. But she’s found herself watching almost all of it. She’s had to force herself to go outside and take walks, or risk watching the trial all day and feeling upset.

The retired high school teacher who lives in New York City describes herself as a political person who likes to stay aware of current events and vocalize her opinions.

“I’m trying not to be pissed, because we’ve been here and done that too many times,” she said, referring to other police officers acquitted in the deaths of unarmed Black people. She’s watching the trial with apprehension, as she ponders what Floyd’s killing and the way the trial has unfolded so far says about America and its values.

Chauvin, 45, who was eventually fired from the police force, is accused of killing a handcuffed Floyd last May by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighbourhood market.

The first week of the trial has included emotional testimonies from several people who witnessed Floyd’s death: The young woman, a teenager at the time, who filmed Floyd’s last moments and told the courtroom she stays “up nights apologizing to George Floyd;” the 61-year-old man who sobbed on the stand, compelling the judge to order a 10-minute recess; the firefighter who begged officers to let her check Floyd’s pulse as he gasped for air, saying, “I was desperate to help.”

The grief and trauma of these witnesses has been on full display, filling in details from new perspectives to create a fuller picture of the scene that people around the world watched over cellphone video last May.

For Kyra Walker, it was enough to tune out and shut down Twitter one day.

“I realized I just didn’t have it in me to watch all this,” she said.

Floyd’s death was traumatizing enough for Walker, but seeing conversations about the trial on Twitter this week brought back a flood of emotions she has grappled with over the course of the last year.

“I had a moment where I just felt broken and I started thinking about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and how in such a short time frame, it was like one Black death after the other, without a break,” she said. It has made her feel paranoid at times for her 11-year-old Black son anytime he leaves home.

The trial is only furthering the uneasiness many felt when the video of Chauvin pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck started to circulate online.

“It took me a while to watch it because I know what these videos are about. I know the ending already,” Thompson said.

Leigh Smith, a logistics operations manager who lives in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, said he has tuned in each day of the trial. He calls some of the testimony “freaking depressing.”

“You catch a murder on camera and you’re going to explain away to me that this man died of a heart attack?” Smith said of Floyd. “All this does is reaffirm the hatred and entrenchment of white supremacy and white domination over communities of colour.”

Brenda Hill, 57, of Detroit watched every video during every minute of the trial’s first two days. Hill, who works for a non-profit that advocates for low-wage workers, isn’t so sure the rest of the country is viewing the trial — or how African Americans continue to be treated — through the same lens.

“We don’t have any trust in this criminal justice system,” she said. “I should be assured that by this time everyone saw what I did. I’m disgusted, I’m hurt by everything.”

As witnesses and attorneys in the courtroom recount the final moments of Floyd’s life in detail, the emotional trauma many Black Americans have felt over the last several years is resurfacing.

“Our country needs counselling,” Gillings-Gayle said. “The witnesses have been grieving and suffering for the last 10 months. And we’ve all been grieving, too.”

United States

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood, this includes protecting one’s home by moving equipment and other assets from these areas to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-normal spring flood season

High-streamflow advisory issued for the Cariboo Region and areas including Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

File
TNRD to test emergency alert app

The Voyent Alert! emergency notification will be sent April 23.

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Large police presence at Kamloops mall following alleged armed robbery

Police were called to a business near the mall about 12:45 p.m.

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read