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The Chauvin Trial And The Re-traumatizing Experience Of Remembering

A demonstrator holds a portrait of George Floyd outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The high-profile trial of former officer Derek Chauvin began on March 29. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a portrait of George Floyd outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The high-profile trial of former officer Derek Chauvin began on March 29. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)

The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin enters its second week. We talk about what’s unfolded thus far in the courtroom, and how Minneapolis and the Black community are responding.  


Tim Arango, Los Angeles correspondent for the New York Times. (@tarangoNYT)

Suzette Hackney, national columnist and editorial board member for USA Today. (@suzyscribe)

Gary Bailey, professor of practice and assistant dean for community engagement and social justice at the Simmons University School of Social Work. (@GaryBailey)

Rose Scott, host of “Closer Look with Rose Scott” on WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station. (@waberosescott)

Interview Highlights

You’ve been speaking to members of the community in Minneapolis. What have you been hearing from them? 

Suzette Hackney: “There is just such a sense of dread here. There are two things at play. So the mayor and the police chief very much want to open George Floyd Square to reconnect it to the city. And they say it’s for public safety reasons. … There are volunteers and activists who just do not want that to happen right now. And so that is simmering here as well, because the mayor and the chief have pledged to do that. They said that there are residents in that area who very much want to see their city services return. They want to have the ability to come and go without having to go through checkpoints. They want to reclaim their neighborhood. And so there is that simmering.

“And then there’s the bigger picture of what’s happening downtown just three miles away. And we have National Guard guarding the courthouse. And that will just be ramped up as this case continues. And so anxiety is just the word. Like you can feel it, you can just feel it. It’s just covered in the city. Folks say, We don’t know what’s going to happen if he’s acquitted. But we know people will take to the streets. And so there’s that concern. Will there be riots? Will there be looting? Will there be mass protests both here and throughout the nation if there’s not a conviction? None of us know what’s going to happen. And I think there’s that fear that’s just really strangling this city.”

On why George Floyd Square is still closed to the public

Suzette Hackney: “One of the reasons George Floyd Square is still closed to the public — and when I mean closed to the public, you can obviously walk in and come and look at the memorial and such. But there’s a four block radius where Mr. Floyd died and there are barricades up and there are activists who intend on holding it down until there are 24 demands that are met.

“And a lot of those demands are things that folks have been crying for years, not just in this community, but in the nation. A reinvestment in community resources. Meaning, around jobs, job training, affordable housing, addiction treatment, which is very key in this case. When you talk about George Floyd, you talk about the use of drugs and how Black folks are sometimes stigmatized for addiction and criminalized for addiction, as opposed to white folks who are suffering from those same addictions. So these are things that folks want here. These are things that they’re demanding here.”

On centuries of racism in Minneapolis and across America

Suzette Hackney: “Here in Minneapolis, I mean, this is very personal for folks who live here. And this is not the first incident here. You know, you had Jamar Clark back in 2015. You had Philando Castile in 2016, he was killed in a nearby suburb. These are cases that folks have been screaming about for years. And then we land with George Floyd, and think about the context of that.

“… You had last summer, Ahmaud Arbery, we had Breonna Taylor. There are just so many names, so many people are struggling to answer. How do we reconcile the abuse, mistreatment and dehumanization of Black people that’s been going on for years, for decades, for centuries. And honestly, these cases are opening the eyes of many people, and there are more folks who now recognize that there’s a problem. It’s now taking those steps to address the problem.”

On the trauma of watching Black death go viral

Rose Scott: “This trauma of watching Black deaths go viral is nothing new for nonwhite groups in this nation, especially Black Americans. Let’s just be really clear and honest about that. So for me, I remember vividly the first time I became aware of Emmett Till murdered in Mississippi in 1955. It will be decades later, because my parents kept newspaper clippings and the Jet magazine that had that photo of Emmett Till in the casket. And for me to see that and then have my parents explain to me what that was all about. You know, we joke about it now a little bit in my family, but I remember when Roots the miniseries was on television, and I was little, and it was a big event in my neighborhood in St. Louis.

“Everyone was going to watch Roots, and I was probably about six or seven years old. And that was just a TV miniseries. But for me, I could not understand what was happening to people who look like me. So whether it’s a TV miniseries, or now, we’re talking about reality here. How many times the Black community has had to relive Black deaths, and this is way before cell phones.

“So besides those in the courtroom, you know, those watching the trial, we’re all reminded of this nine minute plus cell phone video, the cries from George Floyd, the pleas from onlookers, those that knew him, the expression on the officer’s face while his knee is pressed into Floyd’s neck. And as the dean put it, and I can’t even begin to take it any further, but the dean was absolutely right. You know, this is an ongoing, traumatic experience that so many folks in this, particularly Black folks in this nation, we’ve dealt with for more than a century now.”

On looking towards the future 

Gary Bailey: “I am someone who gets up every day looking towards hope. And I believe that all things are possible. And I think that we are in a time that this has been a perfect storm. I’ve never liked that term, but I think this past year has been a perfect storm. We were shut down, forced to focus, the distractions, the noise that goes into so much of our lives and our communities and our world was ambient. And so people had the moment in time to focus on what was happening around them. And this incident, which is not alone and singular, but really is representative of a number of things, a number of incidents.

“And I think it’s a moment where young people who have benefited from discussions that their parents and grandparents heretofore have not had about white supremacy, and misogyny, and patriarchy, and homophobia and all of the things that some generations make light up but are really part of who they are. And that they see the injustice and want to be part of the change. And so I do feel positively about what the opportunity this is presenting. And I see this as being a different moment. However, I also, at 65 years old, know that I’m not going to see the change that I’ve been hoping for for those 65 years in my lifetime.”

Rose Scott: “How many times have we always said, OK, it’s up to the next generation, it’s up to the generation behind Gen Xers, millennials and then Gen Z. So how many times are we going to expect this change to come with the new generation? But it’s a holistic approach, whether it’s through policy, and from federal, down to state to local, it’s going to take a holistic approach. And so that change that the dean talks about in his 65 years, and then the change that I’m expecting in my 51 years, we may not see it. We may. We may not.

“But at some point … I understand when that generation has tasked with the change, when they say, you know what, What y’all have been doing was somewhat effective. But now we want to take it with a different strategy. And then that’s where you get into the whole across generations in terms of civil and human rights, you know, what’s the strategy? What’s the actual outcome that we want? So I understand both sides of all of that. Now, when will it happen? I simply don’t know.”

Suzette Hackney: “As social movements go, this is something that we have to continue pushing. But there are bright spots, you know, and when we think about the civil rights movement that pushed more Black folks to get involved in politics, we’re seeing that still play out today. That needs to continue. There’s no sitting on the sidelines. And I don’t just mean that for Black people, I mean that for white people as well. The only way that we’re going to address these systemic changes that are needed is that we’re all on board. We’re all moving toward that goal.”

From The Reading List

USA Today: “Derek Chauvin trial brings fresh pain to Eric Garner’s mother” — “‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ Those words have haunted Gwen Carr since 2014, when her son Eric Garner died as a police officer attempted to arrest him in New York.”

New York Times: “‘Totally Unnecessary’: Veteran Police Officer Rebukes Derek Chauvin’s Conduct” — “The police officer had seen hundreds of crime scenes, interviewed scores of witnesses and made his share of arrests over more than 35 years working cases in Minneapolis.”

Star Tribune: “Derek Chauvin trial shows people who film police violence later struggle with trauma” — “Darnella Frazier’s viral video of George Floyd’s final moments showed the world what she happened to see and document on a Minneapolis street last May.”

ABC News: “Mental health experts warn Derek Chauvin trial may revive feelings of racial trauma” — “As the Derek Chauvin trial is nationally televised and livestreamed this week, Americans have once again been exposed to the May 2020 video of the former police officer driving his knee into George Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” in his dying moments.”

AP: “Chauvin’s trial leaves many Black viewers emotionally taxed” — “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.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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