Listening to Those Who Saw George Floyd Die

“I look at how that could have been one of them,” she added. She also said that there have “been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.”

She was 17 then. There were four police officers on or around him. She couldn’t see a way to help.

But society isn’t helpless. That’s why we have trials like this one. They’re our attempts to find the truth, to address any injustice, to declare our values — here’s what we will permit, and here’s what we won’t — and perhaps make us better in the long run.

Chauvin is charged with murder. At some point the trial, whose first week just concluded, will turn toward forensics and feuding claims over the specific cause of Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, will mine autopsy results for ambiguity. He’ll assert reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s knee was the murder weapon.

But Chauvin’s inhumanity is indisputable, and the depth of the mark that it left on the people who intersected with it has been heartbreaking to behold. What happened near the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020, was a chilling lesson in power and powerlessness. It both validated and stoked their fears.

“I felt like I was in danger,” Frazier said. “I felt threatened.”

“I was scared,” said Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, who was also 17 when she came upon that gruesome scene, where four men who were supposed “to protect and to serve,” in the motto of many police departments, were ordering bystanders to keep away as Floyd, losing breath, cried out for his mother.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody be killed,” testified another witness, Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who also found herself at the scene. “But it’s upsetting.” That was putting it mildly, to judge by her expression and her voice, in which there was still so much rage and so much regret that she couldn’t intervene.

“I was desperate to help,” Hansen said. But she was helpless.

She grabbed a tissue to sop up her tears. That gesture defined the first week of the trial as surely as laments of helplessness did. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, seemed to go through a whole box of tissues.

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