Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the March 30 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
There are two trials into the death of George Floyd.
One is unfolding in the courtroom where a jury will decide whether former police officer Derek Chauvin is culpable in Floyd’s death after pinning him to the ground with a knee on his neck. Outside the courtroom, the case is widely seen as a trial of the US system itself – a test of whether justice is possible for a Black man who died while under arrest, triggering a global racial reckoning.
The trial promises to be as big as the uproar over Floyd’s death. It is on cable TV and streaming online. A huge security net has been placed around the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. By the time the trial ends in about a month, it will be a massive global media story. The outcome will play into the political debate about police reform. The White House says President Joe Biden is watching.
Minnesota Judge Peter Cahill has impressed on jurors the imperative of separating their own feelings about race and Chauvin from what prosecutors can prove with evidence in the courtroom. He was perturbed when the city of Minneapolis announced a $27 million civil settlement with Floyd’s family before the trial.
Opening arguments Monday showed the task facing the defense. Prosecutors played a harrowing 9 minute and 29 second cellphone video of Floyd’s final moments. “I can’t breathe” Floyd cried. “Please, please,” he gasped before falling silent. Chauvin appeared nonchalant with his knee still down, even as bystanders beseeched him to check Floyd’s pulse. “He does not let up. He does not get up,” prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell said of the defendant.
Chauvin’s lawyers tried to establish reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors over Floyd’s cause of death, arguing that a combination of opioid use, cardiac conditions and an adrenaline rush were to blame. “This case is about more than 9 minutes 29 seconds,” defense lawyer Eric Nelson said.
But the prosecution anticipated such an approach. Blackwell offered jurors – and viewers around the world – a well-crafted soundbite: “You can believe your eyes, it’s homicide.”
‘The health system gave up on him’
The pandemic is worse than ever in Brazil, but Jair Bolsonaro has sent a clear signal he won’t change his head-in-the-sand approach. On Monday, he replaced six top Brazilian officials, including ministers of Justice, Defense and Foreign Affairs, in a cabinet reshuffle apparently aimed at securing greater loyalty as the Covid-19 crisis balloons.
The departures continue a series of changes that started last week, when Bolsonaro swore in a new Health minister and created a fresh “crisis committee” to confront the new wave of Covid-19 infections. But changes at the top of government are unlikely to do much to protect the hundreds of thousands of Brazilians who’ve adopted the President’s contempt for social distancing orders, and now risk exposing themselves to the extra-contagious local P.1 variant.
Police in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have resorted to raiding party hotspots in a desperate whack-a-mole attempt to slow coronavirus transmission. Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are full to the breaking point, with patients kept in corridors and supply rooms, and stocks of oxygen and sedatives for intubation running low. “It is absurd, man, it is wrong. People are having their parties but they have a father, grandfather, at their homes who is about to catch whatever they catch in the streets,” one paramedic told CNN’s Matt Rivers and Marcia Reverdosa in Sao Paulo.
An intensive care nurse at another Sao Paulo hospital said surging cases meant there weren’t enough ventilators to go around. “We didn’t have one more respirator. So the director had to choose to extubate an older patient in order to intubate the younger one. It was a tough call for the doctor – but in the health system’s current state of collapse, we understood that this would be the norm now,” the nurse said. “To extubate a patient means the health system gave up on him, basically only making him comfortable until he passed.”
Faced with the worst crisis yet since the pandemic began, Bolsonaro conceded last week that 2021 should be “the year of the vaccine” – a change in tune from his claims last year that the Pfizer dose might cause women to grow beards and that the Sinovac vaccine was not worth buying. But he also said he “wasn’t convinced yet” that lockdown measures worked – and selecting familiar military faces and family friends for his new cabinet hardly suggests he’s in the market for new ideas.
‘Sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into war-torn Syria by reopening two border crossings and reauthorizing a third. “Look, we all sit in these chairs. We speak these words. We represent our countries. But how is it possible that we can’t find in our hearts the common humanity to actually take meaningful action to do something? How is that possible?” Blinken said. “I have two young children of my own. I suspect many members of this council have young children or grandchildren. I think of my kids when I think of the Syrian children we’ve heard talked about today. I ask you to do the same thing.”
In a swipe at Russia, which has supported embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Blinken added, “Some may argue that reauthorizing humanitarian crossings and providing cross-border aid would in some way infringe on the sovereignty of the Syrian regime. But sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people, deprive them of life-saving medicine, bomb hospitals or commit any other human rights abuse against citizens.”