The testimony coming out of the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has been beyond heartbreaking and beyond enraging. Today, for instance, Floyd’s girlfriend revealed on the stand that his pet name for her was “Mama,” which is what he called out over and over as he died. It’s been this way throughout the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses. Darnella Frazier, now 18 years-old, was 17 when she took the video that first catalyzed the response to Chauvin’s murder of Floyd, and she said on the stand, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. I look at how that could have been one of them.” This is not to mention the brave condemnation to the faces of the cops by two black men: Donald Williams, who said to them, “Y’all murderers, dawg, y’all are murderers, dawg,” and 61 year-old Charles McMillan, who told Chauvin after Floyd’s limp body was taken away, “I don’t respect what you did.” Both men broke down crying on the stand over what they witnessed, what they’ve had to live with.
Yet what has also been solemnly encouraging is how many people wanted to help Floyd on that awful day. There was teenaged cashier Christopher Martin who wanted his store manager to put Floyd’s cigarettes “on my tab” rather than have the police called on Floyd for passing a counterfeit $20 bill. There was trained EMT and firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who called out again and again for the cops to check Floyd’s pulse and wanted to offer medical assistance but was spurned by Tuo Thao, the former officer also on trial for his actions during Floyd’s murder. Williams called the police on the police because, as he told the 911 dispatcher of Chauvin, “He just pretty much killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest.”
While the defense is teeing up an attack on Floyd’s drug use, which just leads to more questions of why they didn’t administer or allow for medical treatment if he was overdosing, I keep thinking about those people who felt helpless before the police. Even 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, who was monitoring the events through a video feed since she was the one who sent police to the scene first, knew that “something was wrong” and called Chauvin’s sergeant as she watched the murder occur. “You can call me a snitch if you want to,” she said.
And I keep thinking about something else that Darnella Frazier said. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she testified. That urge must have been overwhelming for so many of those watching Floyd beg for his life and Chauvin and the other officers just not give a damn.
Gun “rights” supporters often talk about two things: that some mythical “good guy with a gun” will be able to stop a bad guy in a violent situation, and that people need to be able to own guns to stop the government from treading on their life, liberty, and property. No, I don’t believe these things justify mass gun ownership. But we do have a fuckton of guns. In Derek Chauvin, you have both situations bound together. The bad guy was a government official and he was depriving George Floyd of life and liberty.
So I can’t help thinking about what would have happened if someone or more than one someone had pulled guns on the cops and demanded that Chauvin get his goddamn leg off George Floyd’s neck. I wonder if a good guy with a gun should have or could have saved Floyd. Would that good guy or gal have been justified in trying? Sure, the obvious answer is that this isn’t a fucking game or movie and the cops would have pulled their guns and all hell might have broken loose, and that’s a possibility, especially if the civilians who pointed guns at the cops were Black. But let’s dare to go there for a moment or two.
I get that this is dangerous shit to even be contemplating, but, motherfuck, we’ve been watching these white nationalist dickholes work themselves up to a revolutionary rage over lies, over phantoms, over fantasies, and they were ready to overthrow the whole fucking federal government and a few states for shits and giggles and fake election fraud. Meanwhile, all this actual state-sponsored terrorism, violence, and oppression has been happening right in front of our faces, and the fact that we haven’t seen a moment when civilians stepped in to stop cops who are abusing and murdering black people, like Chauvin’s own sergeant said Chauvin did, is honestly something of a miracle and probably speaks to both the fear we have when it comes to official power and the titanic restraint of Black citizens in this nation. We want to believe the good guys would win. We need to believe that. Goddamnit, we wish that were true.
To put it succinctly, even if it would have saved George Floyd’s life, civilians stopping a violent cop is an uprising, and you can fucking well bet that it would have been put down with a savagery that wasn’t even contemplated for the white nationalist rioters.
Still, not helping, not doing something, anything, when you think you could have to save a life is haunting, as Frazier poignantly says. After voicing those sentiments, she added, “But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done,” referring to Chauvin. And that right there is key. The cop is supposed to be the good guy. The tragedy is that they so often aren’t.
We have to fix the goddamned broken, racist justice system, hold the cops to the same behavior they hold all of us to, show that murderers aren’t above the law because they have a badge, and convict this motherfucker. Do what should be done.
The alternative is awful to contemplate because it feels so close to real.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on April 1, 2021 on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.