Derek Chauvin is the Minneapolis police officer who achieved international notoriety for his role in the death of George Floyd. A video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, as Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, was viewed millions of times around the globe. Floyd’s death sparked protests, rioting, looting and burning that went on for months throughout many of the American states, and even spilled over into Canada, Britain and other countries. Many lives were lost, directly and indirectly, as a result of the protests and riots, and billions of dollars of property damage were caused.
Chauvin’s trial is now underway in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the famous incident took place. (Minneapolis recently awarded $27,000,000 to Floyd’s family as compensation for his death.) (NBC News, March 12, 2021, City of Minneapolis reaches 27 M settlement with Floyd Family)
Chauvin is charged with second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. For the murder charge it is not necessary for the state to prove that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd’s death, but it is necessary for them to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by assaulting him. It is referred to as the “felony murder rule”. The second degree manslaughter charge is a lesser charge requiring basically proof of reckless disregard. (StarTribune, March 11, 2021, What Are The Charges Against Derek Chauvin)
There was uncertainty about whether or not Chauvin will also face a charge of third degree murder, but the appeal court decided that he will face that charge. It is an unusual charge that requires proof of “perpetuating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind”. That odd wording was apparently chosen to include situations where drug dealers cause the death of people they don’t know by supplying drugs to them through third parties. It has only been used in one Minnesota case involving a police officer. In that case (Noor) a police officer was convicted of shooting and killing a woman who had approached the police looking for help.
Noor fired his gun at her from the backseat of the vehicle, and over the shoulder of the officer in the driver’s seat, killing the innocent woman. It is an unusual case, and it is being appealed. It is very likely that the third-degree charge facing Chauvin will be the subject of an appeal regardless of the outcome of the trial. (March 11, 2021, New York Times, Derek Chauvin Will Now Face 3rd Degree Murder Charge)
Canadians need to understand that criminal law is within the jurisdiction of each state – and this varies from state to state. This is unlike Canada, where the federal government has jurisdiction over criminal law, so criminal law is uniform across the provinces.
The other police officers involved in the George Floyd incident all face lesser charges, and will likely go to trial in the summer. Needless to say, their fate will largely depend on the results of the Chauvin trial.
Since Floyd’s death last May the mainstream news reporting of the incident has overwhelmingly been that Floyd’s death came as the result of police racism. The narrative is that a racist Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by kneeling on Floyd’s neck. However, there have always been many reasons to doubt that story, and Chauvin’s lawyer will certainly raise many of those exculpatory factors.
In the first place, there doesn’t seem to be evidence of racism. Unless new evidence is raised at the trial it is doubtful that evidence of racism on the part of Chauvin will play much part at the trial. There appears to be none.
Secondly, there is plenty of reason to doubt that the knee on the neck was the cause of death. Floyd allegedly had enough fentanyl in his system to kill him, as well as methamphetamines. In fact, Floyd apparently had three times as much fentanyl in his system as it takes to kill a person. In addition, Floyd was not a well man. He had significant artery and heart disease, as well as other serious health problems. Defence counsel can be expected to suggest that death from a fentanyl overdose in combination with his other co-morbidities was the likely cause of death.
But defence counsel doesn’t even have to prove that suggestion, just raise the possibilities. Rather the onus is on the state to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt of its charges against the accused.
There are many possible surprises at this trial. Chauvin’s lawyers are predicted to argue that kneeling on the neck of a detained individual is not only acceptable police practice, but official policy for the Minneapolis police. However, the Minneapolis police chief is expected to dispute that – despite the procedure being listed in his police manual. How will that go? And why did the mainstream media almost universally leave out that important fact from their reporting? And evidence will probably be advanced that Floyd was infected with the Covid-19 virus. Will that become relevant? For instance, will Chauvin’s counsel argue that the knee procedure with Floyd’s head to the side was considered necessary as a Covid protection measure? Conflicting coroners’ reports will also be a battleground for counsel. The state’s own medical examiner reported that asphyxiation was not the cause of death, so the prosecution is in the unusual position of disputing the state’s medical examiner’s testimony. How will that look to the jury?
There is also a very important video that sheds light on Floyd’s behaviour after the police first detained him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. The video strongly suggests that Floyd was high on some substance, but Floyd denied several times to police that he had ingested any illicit drugs. This video could be very important at the trial. The video also shows Floyd resisting arrest and asking to be taken out of the police car so he could lie on the road. Even before Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s “knock area” Floyd was complaining that he couldn’t breathe. What will the jury make of that? The video was known to the media since the incident occurred, and yet most members of the public will be seeing it for the first time. Many people will wonder why the media didn’t give them that information.
There may be many other unexpected details that might well surprise us. For those who made up their minds after watching the famous video of the incident, the trial might be an upsetting experience.
What is clear is that the story the mainstream media advanced relentlessly since May – namely that a racist police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck – is very different than the story that the jury will hear. The evidence that they will have to deal with will tell a much different, and much more complex story.
Of course, there is a question of whether it is even possible for Chauvin to receive a fair trial. Every potential juror knows that an intimidating mob is sullenly waiting outside that courthouse – a mob that will accept nothing less than a murder conviction. Is it even possible to find impartial jurors under these conditions? Is it possible for a judge, who knows that the streets will erupt if he doesn’t do what the national mob is demanding, to do his job properly? Even if the trial has to be moved to another city is it possible for Chauvin to receive a fair trial under these circumstances? (Star Tribune, May 29, 2020, Does Derek Chauvin Have A Chance For A Fair Trial?)
In a fair trial it is unlikely that Chauvin will be convicted of second-degree murder, and the third-degree charge doesn’t seem to fit. If Chauvin is acquitted of the murder charges – and the mob doesn’t get what it wants – there will almost certainly be protests, rioting, looting, burning and quite possibly deaths. It is also likely that there will be claims that the jury and entire system are “racist”. The judge and every member of the jury are aware of that likelihood.
How much responsibility will the mainstream media have for creating this mess, and the carnage that will likely follow this trial? I would argue that they will be responsible for much of it. They have blood on their hands. Most of the exculpatory evidence introduced at the trial was known long ago. Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamines in his system; he was behaving aggressively; he was a thoroughly disreputable felon, and on and on. The press also knew long ago that there were many reasons to doubt that it was the knee on the neck that killed Floyd. But the story the media kept telling was always the same: “racist cop kills innocent black man”. As a result, if Chauvin is acquitted of the murder charge a public that has been persuaded by the mainstream that this was basically murder by a racist cop will probably react badly. The mainstream media in America is reckless and irresponsible on issues of this kind. They want to advance their agenda and insist on doing so in blatant disregard of the facts.
The George Floyd case is not unique in this campaign by the mainstream news to sacrifice truth in reporting to advance personal social justice agendas. There have been many examples, both before and after the George Floyd incident. The Jacob Blake police shooting that set off the deadly Kenosha riots in August 2020, is an example of biased reporting that came after the Floyd incident. The press was almost universally reporting about the “unarmed black man” shot by the police. Even at the time of the incident there was ample evidence that Blake was definitely “armed”. And Blake later admitted that he was indeed armed with a knife – just as the police said all along. The police shooting was perfectly justified. But feverish reporting about the “unarmed black man” resulted in both death and massive destruction. The press wiped its hands of complicity. (New York Times, March 10, 2021, What We Know About the Shooting of Jacob Blake)
And this pattern was established long ago. Remember the famous “hands up don’t shoot” incident during the Obama years? The press massively reported what later turned out to be a complete lie – namely that Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2015 had his hands up when the police shot him. In fact, Brown was attacking the police officer who shot him in self-defence.
But again, the irresponsible and biased reporting by the press resulted in massive damage, looting and death. The media was so fixed on advancing the story that “yet another black man was shot by a white police officer” that they blithely disregarded the facts to tell the story they wanted told – regardless of the costs.
At some point the American mainstream decided that advancing their narrative trumped their duty to report the news in an honest and objective manner. The old Walter Kronkite/Dan Rather model was broken. The modern journalist became a social justice activist.
The central false narrative that the mainstream media has pushed in all of these police shooting cases, of course, is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) dogma that the police are routinely shooting unarmed black men. This narrative has been completely demolished time and time again by many eminent researchers. It is simply not true. There are at most a handful of unjustified shootings per year, and yet the public believes that there are thousands. That completely distorted belief is a direct result of recklessly inaccurate reporting by the mainstream news. Exactly how much damage this distorted reporting has done, in terms of lost lives, ruined careers and property damage will probably never be known. But rather than apologize for their egregious reporting and setting the record straight the media continues to perpetuate this false narrative. (Heather MacDonald, July 6, 2020, USA Today, There Is No Epidemic Of Police Shooting Unarmed Black Americans)
The media doesn’t apologize because it uses George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Michael Brooks and the others to tell the story it wants to tell – namely that white America is oppressing black America – white, racist police officers are gunning down innocent black men. When the facts get in the way of that central story, the facts must go.
That story has been used to construct a virtual “equity” industry. Affirmative action programs are now ubiquitous. Universities and other government and non-government institutions are hiring people based on race rather than merit, and highly controversial “critical race” theories are being taught in schools throughout the land. Employees are forced to take courses in “anti-racism” and “how not to be a white supremacist”. All of this is based on the George Floyd story that the media insists on telling – in spite of the facts.
And we see Canada’s mainstream media imitating their southern neighbors.
Remember the Gerald Stanley trial? He was the Saskatchewan farmer who shot and killed Coulten Boushie, a young indigenous man. The initial reports of that death were of an indigenous man who wanted help to fix a flat tire, but was gunned down by the farmer he asked for help. Almost immediately it became clear to those of us who sought out accurate information about the incident that this simplistic story came nowhere close to truthfully describing the incident. In fact Boushie and a group of his friends were intoxicated and intent on stealing a vehicle after they damaged theirs. They attempted to steal a truck at a farm close to the Stanley farm.
While there, one of them smashed the windshield of a vehicle. From a window upstairs the elderly woman – who was alone at her farm – watched in terror, not knowing whether this dangerously intoxicated group would enter her house, or what else they had in mind. The gang moved on to Stanley’s farm, where in broad daylight, and directly in front of Stanley and his family, they brazenly entered the property and started and drove one of Stanley’s vehicles. Boushie, with a loaded rifle beside him, drove his vehicle directly towards Stanley’s wife. Stanley, not knowing whether or not his wife had been hit somehow shot Boushie. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Feb 8, 2019, Gerald Stanley Trial)
That is the evidence the jury heard. It was definitely not the story of the innocent young man wanting help with his tire that the mainstream media had peddled. The jury acquitted Stanley. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Justice – probably relying at least in part on the misleading CBC reporting – both sent messages implying that the jury’s decision was a bad one – even racist. The Boushie family was treated as the victim, and wined and dined in Ottawa.
The point is that up to the minute of the trial the media – particularly the CBC – told a story that was completely untrue. They continued to spout the “innocent indigenous man trying to get help with his tire” fib long after they knew that such a description was wildly off the mark. This set the stage for the irresponsible actions of the Prime Minister and Justice Minister. But more seriously, it erroneously gave the Canadian public the impression that their justice system and the people of Saskatchewan were racist. Essentially, the false media reporting was race-baiting sensationalism.
Both the George Floyd and Coulten Boushie cases are examples of how media bias can and does cause real harm. Journalists with an agenda are worse than no journalists at all.
The mainstream media’s biased reporting in the Colten Boushie case is typical of their reporting on indigenous matters generally. They take a protective attitude, and insist on shielding contentious issues from the hard-nosed approach they take to other issues. An indigenous leader or activist can get away with preposterous behaviour that would not be accepted if done by anyone else. An example is found in the “Wet’suwet’en” blockades during the winter of 2020. One of the very sketchy people claiming to be a “hereditary chief” – a grifter with a criminal record – was a thoroughly disreputable character who had engaged in very shady dealings, both before and after the blockade incident. Yet he was handled with a respect that he did not deserve simply because he was indigenous.
Our media wants the indigenous story to be similar to the story the American media insists on telling about racism in America. But the stories are very different. America is struggling through its painful history of slavery. Canada did have a small part in that story – yes, there were slaves in Canada brought by United Empire loyalists after the American War of Independence. But that is a small part of the story. A much bigger part is the fact that Canada was on the freedom end of the “freedom train”. Slaves escaped to Canada, not from Canada. Canadians can take some pride in our history during that fraught period.
And Canada’s treatment of our indigenous people also has a very different history than our American neighbors. Yes, there is much that was racist and wrong. But the fact is that we simply don’t have the violent and bloody history that occurred south of the border. With the exception of some rather minor skirmishes violence did not play a part in Canada’s treatment of our indigenous people.
None of this is cause for smugness, but what it does mean is that we should not be imitating the racial angst playing out to the south of us. Our media wants to pull us in that direction, but we should not follow them. Canada is not a “systemically racist” country, and the radical racially divisive remedies now being trotted out in Biden’s America are not something we should be copying.
Many people are thoroughly disgusted when they hear the term “fake news”. And perhaps that is indeed a crude term. But how else to describe supposedly objective journalists who have decided that their personal commitment to eradicating racism from the planet supersedes their duty to honestly and objectively report the news? What the journalists don’t understand – or rather what they choose to not understand- is that there is no shortage of opinion writers and speakers who are more than happy to offer their opinion on everything under the sun. Every newspaper and television channel has a large contingent of opinion people. But offering opinions is not the job of the journalists, and that is what they insist on doing. Real journalists are expected to put their personal opinions and agendas on hold in order to provide honest and unbiased news coverage to the public. True journalism is on life support in North America.
The result of the biased reporting in America is the deadly drama that will probably soon be playing out on their streets, after an enraged mob – told for almost a year by a biased media that a racist cop had murdered an innocent black man – does not get the hanging tree kind of justice they had in mind for him.
Here in Canada, things are a bit more sedate. The media will continue to tell Canadians that this is a “systemically racist” country that must do as they say to atone for our sins. They will continue to inject their bias to advance their personal agendas instead of honestly and objectively reporting the news. But in both cases, journalists have abdicated their role. By doing so they have sacrificed their credibility, and created “fake news”.
There was a time when journalists and newspersons took pride in their ability to set their personal opinions and biases in the back seat, and objectively give Canadians the news. Coincidentally, those were also the times when Canadians trusted them to do that.
Only bad things happen when the news media doesn’t tell the truth.
Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Photo by munshots on Unsplash.