Editorials

I Can’t Breathe – A Statement Turned Movement


Author: Parishi Jain, 2nd Year B.LS. LL.B. student at SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law. 

People will remember the year 2020 for the start of the pandemic which affected anyone and everyone; however, it wasn’t the only subject that caught the global manoeuvre. Thousands of people got on the streets of Washington, London and Berlin chanting ‘I can’t breathe’, reverberating ‘Black Lives Matter’ and reminding the country of the United States of America, and everybody else, of the injustice that the Black community faces at the hands of its law-enforcing officers.

The incident that sparked weeks-long protests and rejuvenated the spirit of the 2013 Black Lives Matter Movement, was the viral video of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. On May 25, 2020, the 46-year-old Black man had bought a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store for which he had allegedly paid using a counterfeit $20 note. When police were called, four officers handcuffed Floyd and tried to put him in their car. A struggle ensued between the two parties and Floyd was wrestled down to the ground by the Police with a White Officer, Derek Chauvin’s knee pinned to Floyd’s neck. Hereafter, numerous ‘I can’t breathe’ cries, countless ‘please let go’ pleas and 9 minutes 29 seconds later, Floyd succumbed to cardiopulmonary arrest caused due to Chauvin’s kneeling over his neck.

After years from Scott v. Stanford, Plessey v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, the trial of George Floyd’s murder will be remembered as one of the most important cases for 21st century America. On April 20, 2021, a jury of 12 found officer Derek Chauvin guilty over the charges of Manslaughter, Second-degree Murder and Third-degree Murder. In a courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, the jury over the course of 3 weeks, watched several hours of video footage and heard from over 45 witnesses, and after ‘sequestrating’ for 10 delivered the unanimous verdict. After which Judge Peter A. Cahill ordered that Chauvin be taken into custody.

For a country where Police have the considerable legal latitude to use force and which rarely holds police officers accountable for on-duty killings, especially in cases of Black victims; this case can be held as a milestone that would mould the course of future trials. According to legal experts, because of such authority of the Police, it would have been very difficult for the prosecutors to convince the jury to convict the officers of the law. This what Eric J. Nelson, counsel for Chauvin, did when he blamed Chauvin’s act on his training as an officer and the pressure that the bystanders created on the officer saying, ‘Human-beings make decisions in highly stressful situations that they believe to be right in the very movement.’

Alternatively, Prosecutor Steve Schleicher, isolated this incident saying that, ‘this is not the prosecution of the Police’ and what Chauvin did was not policing. According to Daniel Medwed, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, this was a wise decision to separate Chauvin from Police as jurors are often uneasy and reluctant in convicting a policeman.

With the decision coming in, Vice-President Kamala Harris stated that this verdict has paved the way for Police Reformation in the United States, and urged lawmakers across all the states to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so that such incidents can be avoided and the Police shall be held accountable.


References

  1. Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Tim Arango, What to Know About the Trial of Derek Chauvin, New York Times (Apr. 29, 2021), www.nytimes.com/live/2021/derek-chauvin-trial-explained.
  2. George Floyd: Jury finds Derek Chauvin Guilty of Murder, BBC News (Apr. 21, 2021), www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56818766.
  3. Mark Berman, How Derek Chauvin Became the Rare Police Officer Convicted of Murder, The Washington Post (Apr. 21, 2021), www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/04/20/chauvin-police-officer.

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