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

At their April 20 board meeting, School District 83 trustees agreed to add a new option to the Long Range Facilities Plan, E6, which proposes two Grade 9-12 high school campuses, Sullivan and at Shuswap Middle School, with the Jackson campus becoming a Grade 6-8 middle school. (File photo)
School District 83 adds new option for Salmon Arm schools

No decision made on Long Range Facilities Plan, trustees considering more consultation

Salmon Arm City Councillor Chad Eliason, then-Mayor Nancy Cooper, then Coun.-Marg Kentel and BC Transit Sr. Regional Manager Steve Harvard and guests on board a local transit bus in December 2011 during a celebration marking 20 years of transit service in the area. (File photo)
Province follows transit tradition similar to Salmon Arm’s 15 years later

In 2006 the city introduced free bus rides for children and youth on all school and other holidays

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

Shuswap Middle School principal Sydney Griffith notified parents on Tuesday, April 20 that a member of the school community had tested positive for COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap Middle School parents notified of new potential COVID-19 exposure dates

April 20 notice says member of school community tested positive for virus

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)
Virtual meetings leave North Okanagan politicians out of touch

More than a year of Zoom has led to a disconnect between officials, according to local mayors

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019. (Facebook photo)
Meth, excessive speed found as factors in 2019 Osoyoos boat crash deaths

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
‘I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants the Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

The City of Penticton is looking into the possibility of licensing certain public spaces to permit alcohol consumption during set hours. The city could see legal public drinking as early as June 5, 2020. (Monique Tamminga - Western News)
Booze on the beach set to make a comeback in Penticton for summer 2021

Penticton council gave the first three readings to bring back limited public drinking

Most Read