Black families still reeling from verdicts in police brutality cases warn justice is not promised in Chauvin trial
Updated 5:07 AM ET, Sun April 4, 2021
(CNN)Tiffany Crutcher still remembers the numbness she felt when a jury announced it was acquitting the Tulsa police officer charged with manslaughter in her twin brother Terence Crutcher's death.
After the nationwide outcry over his death, the release of police dash cam video, and standing by through nine hours of jury deliberation, Crutcher said she was certain her family would get justice.
But when it didn't come, Crutcher said she had to accept a hard reality.
"You can have police killings on video and they still get away with it," Crutcher said. "The system we live in was never truly designed to protect Black people."
While the family of George Floyd hopes for a conviction in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Crutcher and the loved ones of other police brutality victims caution against assuming he won't get acquitted. In many cases, Black families have endured days and weeks of trials that ended with no conviction for the charged police officers or a sentencing that was much shorter than they expected. Other families have demanded accountability only for prosecutors and grand juries to not charge or indict the police officers at all.
These mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of victims are standing in solidarity with the Floyd family, saying they understand the agonizing wait for justice in a legal system that often sides with police officers.
Some say they watched attorneys paint the same dark picture of their deceased loved ones as defense attorneys did of Floyd this week when they said underlying health issues complicated by a drug overdose -- not pressure from Chauvin's knee -- killed him.
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, traveled to Minneapolis for the first days of the trial to support the Floyd family. She knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds with Floyd's family, attorneys and supporters outside the Minneapolis courthouse on Monday to mark the final moments of his life.
During the trial last week it was revealed that Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
Carr told CNN she can relate to losing a loved one who repeatedly said, "I can't breath" before dying at the hands of police.
She said she was glad to see an immediate termination, murder charges against Chauvin, and a trial because she didn't get any of that for Garner's death. The police officer who put Garner in a chokehold while arresting him wasn't fired until five years after Garner died.
Still, Carr cautions that the Floyd family may have to brace for a possible acquittal.
"Don't think that this is going to be a slam dunk, even though you have a video," Carr said. "I had a video for the whole world to see and they still didn't indict any cops in my son's case."
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, told CNN earlier this week that justice for their family is a conviction for Chauvin.
"So many times I have seen African American people killed and nobody gets a conviction," Floyd said. "We're all fighting across America, not just me. You see protesters all around the world. They're all standing up for George Floyd. If you can't get justice in America for this, what can you get justice for then?"
Why it's difficult to convict officers
One expert said many of these families never get justice because it's difficult to convict a police officer for murder.
Kenneth Nunn, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said prosecutors must be able prove that a police officer was negligent, unreasonable, and reckless when he or she used deadly force.
Proving this is especially harder for Black victims because policing in the United States has been historically racist dating back to slave patrols who used violence to control the Black community, Nunn said.
Some White people, he said, associate the presence of Black Americans with crime. Because of this, White jurors may side with the police who they trust are fulfilling their oath to protect the community. A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that nearly 65% of Black adults say they have experienced someone acting suspicious of them because of their race compared to 25% of White people.
The 14 jurors selected for the Chauvin trial include eight White people, four Black people and two mixed race people. The jurors were required to complete a 16-page questionnaire that asked for their personal thoughts on Black Lives Matter, policing and other topics.
"I don't think the average White juror or average White citizen wants to see Black people killed by the police," Nunn said. "But when they do see those killings, they weigh that with 'well we are concerned about safety in our community, these are the people who provide it, we want to give them some leeway.'"
Families say 'stand strong'
During the first week of the trial, bystanders testified about their horror and fear watching Floyd die on May 25, 2020. Their testimony -- along with the searing eyewitness videos -- are the backbone of the state's case. But the families of other Black men and women killed by police warned the Floyd family that the defense will try to malign his character.
The Terence Crutcher Foundation released a statement on Monday warning the Floyd family that there would be "gaslighting" by the defense.
"... They will vilify George and blame him for his own death, you will have to relive the horrific event over and over," the statement said. "But STAND STRONG and know that we are with you and we STAND in solidarity with you as you endure the unconscionable."
During opening statements, defense attorney Eric Nelson cited Floyd's use of fentanyl and methamphetamine and his heart problems as the cause of his death. He said Floyd was resisting arrest and that Chauvin was following proper police training.
"You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career," Nelson said. "The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing."
Nelson was also criticized for suggesting that Donald Williams, a Black man who witnessed Floyd's death, grew "angry" at the scene because he yelled out obscenities at the officers telling them to get off Floyd. Critics said Nelson made use of a stereotype that characterizes Black men and women as hostile and overly aggressive.
"No, you can't paint me out as angry — I would say I was in a position where I had to be controlled," Williams said while being cross-examined by Nelson.
"Williams is not an angry Black man just because he spoke up," CNN commentator Keith Boykin tweeted on Tuesday.
A 'playbook' that's 'triggering'
Tiffany Crutcher said the opening statements in Chauvin's trial gave her anxiety. It took her back to the trial of former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby who was acquitted in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. Defense attorneys, she said, brought up Crutcher's history of drug addiction during the trial.
"This is the exact same playbook they used in my brother's trial," she said. "It's sick and it's triggering."
Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, said watching the Chauvin trial has been "re-traumatizing."
Castile said attorneys attempted to incriminate her son as well, saying he had marijuana in his system when he was killed by a Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, in 2016. Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
Castile said she has little faith in the criminal justice system and empathizes with the Floyd family as they watch the trial.
"You have to really have tough skin to sit there and listen to all that," Castile said. "Nothing surprises me with these people in Minnesota because they have been getting away with this for many years."
The family of Botham Jean was among those who did get the murder conviction they wanted for former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger who fatally shot Jean when she entered his apartment thinking it was her own in 2018. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The case sparked a national conversation about forgiveness when Jean's younger brother Brandt Jean told Guyger in court that he forgave her before walking over to hug her tightly for nearly a minute. Brandt Jean also said that he didn't want Guyger to go to prison.