How the Derek Chauvin trial broke down the 'blue wall of silence'

We get the latest on the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, with Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong. She says prosecutors in the case have successfully chipped away at the "blue wall of silence" by getting current police officials to testify against Chauvin. However, she says it's likely that "the only reason that these officers have testified is because the world is watching."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to talk about what's happening in Minnesota, now to the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, on trial for murdering George Floyd. The trial is taking place 10 miles from where a white police officer killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, Sunday.

On Monday, a cardiologist called as an expert witness in the Chauvin trial by the prosecution testified George Floyd died due to oxygen deprivation after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for over nine minutes. George Floyd's brother Philonise also testified and talked about how close George was to his mother, who died in 2018.

PHILONISE FLOYD: And when we went to the funeral, it's just — George just sat there at the casket. Over and over again, he would just say, "Mama, mama," over and over again. And I didn't know what to tell him, because I was in pain, too. We all were hurting. And he was just kissing her and just kissing her. He didn't want to leave the casket. And everybody was like, "Come on. Come on. It's going to be OK." But it was just difficult, because no — I don't know who can take that, when you watch your mother, somebody who loved and cherished you and nursed you for your entire life, and then they have to leave you. We all have to go through it, but it's difficult. And George, he was just in pain the entire time.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Sir, you indicated your mother passed away May 30. That was 2018. Is that right?
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Is that a picture of your mother and George when he was younger?
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Offer Exhibit 284.
JUDGE PETER CAHILL: 284 is received.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Permission to publish? Sir, would you please describe this photo and what you know about it?
PHILONISE FLOYD: That's my mother. She's no longer with us right now, but — that's my oldest brother, George. I miss both of them. I was married. In May 24th, I got married. And my brother was killed May 25th. And my mom died on May 30th. It's like a bittersweet month, because I'm supposed to be happy when that month comes.

AMY GOODMAN: George Floyd's brother Philonise testifying Monday. Derek Chauvin's defense is due to call its first witnesses today.

To talk more about the trial of Derek Chauvin, we're staying with Nekima Levy Armstrong, the Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney, activist, executive director of Wayfinder Foundation, former president of the Minneapolis NAACP.

Can you talk about the wrapping up of the prosecution? Once again, one officer after another, the leaders in the Minneapolis Police Department, and then experts saying that it was not a heart attack, it was not drugs, it was the cutting off of the oxygen supply by Chauvin's knee — the significance of this? And also the significance of the defense asking to sequester the jury, given what happened with the murder of another African American man down the road? But, of course, the judge said no.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, prosecutors finished their case as strongly as they started, in terms of humanizing George Floyd, putting on extremely emotional testimony from the bystanders early on, as well as from George Floyd's brother, who provided what's called "spark of life" testimony in the state of Minnesota. One of the things that I think is important as a result of the testimony of George Floyd's brother is the fact that his testimony paints a picture for the jury of what George Floyd's life meant to the family and to the community, and how his death has impacted them.

I also think that the state did a really good job of providing expert witness testimony in the form of medical evidence, as well as use-of-force testimony, and also helping to break what some may call the "blue wall of silence" by having so many police officers testify in the prosecution's case against [Derek Chauvin]. We know that through one trial, that blue wall of silence is not going to crumble, but it is a start. And Chief Arradondo has been able to set the tone for the department in terms of his expectations and sending a signal to officers that they will not be allowed to get away with this kind of behavior.

Now, on the flipside, there are folks who feel that the only reason that these officers have testified is because the world is watching. And I believe that there is a lot of truth to that, because some of the underlying issues within the Minneapolis Police Department, as far as the culture, have not yet changed.

Now, in terms of yesterday's motion hearings, we heard from the defense counsel Eric Nelson that the unrest that happened on Sunday night would have an impact on the jury, so he was recommending that the jury be sequestered. Judge Cahill made the best decision in refusing to sequester the jury and articulating that these are two separate incidences. What happened in Brooklyn Center as a result of the killing of Daunte Wright at the hands of the police is not the same as what is happening in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nekima, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the decision by Governor Tim Walz to issue a curfew for several counties in the Twin Cities area from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. Tuesday, and given the fact that we're dealing with — this is the beginning of Ramadan, your thoughts about these restrictions?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: I think that the restrictions are ridiculous, from my perspective, as someone who has been out on the frontlines. I've been out both nights, along with Jaylani Hussein and many other activists and organizers.

It is really upsetting that the governor would issue a curfew rather than working proactively to curb police violence and set the tone by using his bully pulpit, pushing for policy changes and really advocating for the rights of Black people and other people of color who have been abused by police. Instead, what we're seeing is the governor push for more funding for law enforcement, bring in the National Guard, help to set up barricades and chain-link fencing around the courthouse and other buildings throughout the Twin Cities, and now this additional curfew.

Many young people last night intentionally violated the curfew because they're sending a signal that they are fed up with police violence in the state of Minnesota and not feeling safe as young Black people out in the community.

AMY GOODMAN: Nekima Levy Armstrong, we want to thank you being with us, Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney, activist, executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation.

When we come back, we'll be joined by the former head of the national NAACP, now president of People for the American Way. We'll be joined by Ben Jealous to talk about not only the Chauvin trial, but also the right-wing smear campaign targeting Kristen Clarke, President Biden's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Her hearing begins Wednesday. Stay with us.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: "When I'm 64" by The Beatles. This is Democracy Now!, I'm Juan González, with Amy Goodman. And, Amy, today we want to wish you a very Happy 64th Birthday! It seems only yesterday you were a young rebel reporter. Well, now you're a mature rebel reporter.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you, Juan. And it's wonderful to spend this day with you, or at least this hour, with our listeners, our viewers and readers. But such difficult times that we have to deal with. But no better group of people to deal with these critical issues. So thanks so much.

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