Thursday, April 1, 2021

The trauma of helplessness

 Stanley - Thursday

This week saw the start of the trial of ex Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt for over 9 minute on the neck of George Floyd. Floyd had been shopping in a local convenience store and had apparently passed a counterfeit $20 bill. He is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd in south Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. 

George Floyd

Derek Chauvin

Floyd's death sparked protests around the world against police brutality and discrimination against Blacks as the Black Lives Matter movement exploded into visibility. In Minneapolis, the protests included the burning of many local businesses and a local police station.

I live four blocks from the heavily barricaded courthouse, and I was concerned what could happen outside the building. So far, however, protests have been very quiet and orderly, as far as I know. May it continue that way.

There have been only three days of testimony, and the striking impression is not so much the testimony itself but the emotion shown by those who were bystanders.

Darnella Frazier took the video that has now been seen millions of times, recording Officer Chauvin kneeling for at least nine minutes on Floyd's neck, despite Floyd gasping that he couldn't breathe. She said in a faltering voice:

"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 are all Black. I have a Black father, I have a Black brother, I have Black friends. I look at that and I look at how it could have been one of them."

It was clear that Frazier's trip to buy some snacks at the convenience store will change her life forever, and it appeared that the experience had affected her deeply.

Frazier's 9-year-old cousin, Judeah Reynolds, also testified, saying "I was sad and kind of mad and it felt like it was stopping his breathing and it was hurting him." It is hard to imagine the emotional impact of both witnessing the event and being put on the stand.

61-year-old Charles MacMillan broke down in tears when he watched himself on video, trying to calm the situation as Chauvin and three other police officers tried to get Floyd into the police car. 

The 17-year-old store clerk who refused to accept the $20 bill, said he "disbelief and guilt" because  "If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided."

Another 17-year-old, Alyssa Funari, who witnessed Floyd's death and also made a recording with her cell phone, testified "It was difficult because I felt like there wasn't really anything I could do. As a bystander I was powerless there, and I was failing to do anything."

And finally, there was an 0ff-duty firefighter, Genevieve Hansen, who tried to offer help to Floyd, but was waved off by the police officers. "There is a man being killed, and I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was not provided that right," she said. Hansen also testified that Chauvin appeared "very comfortable with the majority of his weight balanced on top of Mr. Floyd." 

Hansen then told the court what steps she would have taken had she been given access. When asked whether she was able to do any of the steps, she said she wasn't able to.

How did it make you feel?" the prosecutor asked.

"Totally distressed."

"Were you frustrated?"

"Yes," Hansen said, beginning to cry.

The level of distress felt by all of these witnesses was striking, all of whom were mere bystanders. By happenstance they became involved in an incident that will leave a permanent, indelible scar, partly because they either could not assist Floyd or were prevented from helping him.


  1. You are spot on, Stan. It seems a common thread running through the testimonies that the feeling of desperation and the inability to save or help someone in distress is even more traumatic than if they had been able to physically help, even with the same outcome of death. The feeling of "I did as much as I could" helps assuage the tragedy, whereas "I couldn't do anything" or "I was prevented from doing anything" leaves the emotions unresolved and without closure, setting up an anguish that is very tough to ameliorate. Even watching it on TV engenders that yearning to be able to do SOMETHING to aid a person in real distress.

    1. Thanks Kwei. I was talking to a friend today as to what we would have done. We both thought that we would have walked away from the little gathering whether we knew what was happening or not.

  2. I agree with Kwei who agrees with you, Stan, but I cannot bring myself to watch the trial in any detail. I feel I'm holding my breath...waiting along with the rest of the world to exhale.

  3. I suspect it is not that different from the guilt feelings people have when they survive and those around them don’t.

  4. I can't keep watching this over and over again. It is devastating to the witnesses, those who wanted to help but were prevented, the man who should have given back the $20, the Black community and all who support justice and human rights and oppose racism.
    The death penalty over $20?
    A Black man's life is worth $20?

    Is that what is implied here? It was cold-blooded murder for no reason. As a human being, I am outraged and depressed.

    Will people of African descent ever be treated decently with respect in this country, especially by law enforcement?

    I would not have walked away from this scene. I hope I would have yelled, "Let him go. Leave him alone."

    An older Asian woman was just beaten in New York, and she was on the ground badly injured. Security guards at a building right there shut the door, didn't even go to her aid or call 911.

    Millions of people joined protests in the U.S. and worldwide for "Justice for George Floyd." And for Elijah McClain, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and on and on.

    This has to end.

  5. Those witnesses are understandably heart-broken because they could not stop Chauvin from killing George Floyd. But they did do something vitally important. The watched and photographed. Suppose no one had been there to see and capture film. George would still have died. Without the evidence of those standing by, his family and friends might have protested, but the incident would have faded into oblivion. I wish George Floyd were alive today. But I also think of all those droves of human beings who have been killed under similar circumstances and whose deaths went unnoticed. Those witnesses who let the world see Floyd's murder and have now testified have done something critical to the pursuit of justice. They deserve our gratitude. They have borne witness!

    1. The fact they were witnesses has had an enormous impact on the world. As you say 'How many others...?'

  6. Yes, true, witnesses, who now feel helpless and guilt-ridden that they couldn't help George Floyd and stop his killing. Will there be justice? So many juries have let cops walk, including those who beat Rodney King, seen on TV news.
    I hope that because there was a video and witnesses have spoken out and that millions of people marched in the U.S. and globally, that it will result in the conviction of the main culprit and his abetters. That police officers are testifying against Chauvin is a first and may help in the convictions.