Jury in George Floyd murder trial shown harrowing video images of arrest
The video record of George Floyd's death under the knee of a policeman took center stage as the politically charged trial opened in Minneapolis on Monday. The arresting police officer is accused of second degree murder and faces 40 years in jail if convicted.
Prosecutors claim that white police officer Derek Chauvin had no justification for using the dangerous restraint position for more than nine minutes on Floyd, an African-American, last May during an arrest on a minor charge.
But Chauvin's attorney argues that Floyd was on drugs, forcing officers to take tough action, and that his death was caused by the drugs and a medical condition rather than asphyxiation.
"Nine minutes and 29 seconds. That's how long that went on," Minnesota state prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said of the length of time Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck as he lay handcuffed on a Minneapolis street.
Floyd was originally arrested on 25 May 2020, for passing a counterfeit $20 bill. But the situation worsened after officers struggled to put him in a police car and instead forced him to the ground, handcuffed.
Bystanders urged policeman to let up
In the video, Floyd moans and gasps for breath while bystanders urge Chauvin to let up.
Floyd said, "I can't breathe" 27 times, Blackwell told the court, before being loaded, unconscious, on a stretcher by medics and taken to hospital, where he was declared dead.
Chauvin was a 19-year veteran of the police force at the time of the events. He has since been sacked. His attorney, Eric Nelson, told the jury of nine women and five men that Chauvin adhered to policing standards.
"You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do," Nelson said.
"The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body."
Angry reaction to Floyd's death
Floyd's death, as revealed by the bystander video of the long minutes that Chauvin held him on the ground, sparked a national outrage, with widespread protests and rioting against police brutality towards African Americans.
The trial is being broadcast live on television, and the White House said President Joe Biden was paying attention.
"He certainly will be watching closely, as Americans across the country will be watching," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"At the time of George Floyd's death, he talked about this as being an event that really opened up a wound in the American public."
"The whole world is watching," said Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer and attorney for the Floyd family ahead of opening statements.
"Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all," Crump said.
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