Following two weeks and counting of historic protests across the US and the world, the police officer who has been accused of murdering Geroge Floyd after pressing his knee on the 46-year-old black man for eight minutes straight, has had his first hearing for the charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Yesterday, 8 June, Derek Chauvin virtually appeared through a teleconference call in Hennepin County District Court, Minnesota, at 12:45 p.m. GMT-5.
The 44-year-old Oakdale resident entered no plea deal during the 15-minute hearing that saw his bail set at $1.25 million (£1 million), upwards of a quarter-million from the original bail amount due to what the prosecutors described as the “severity of the charges” as well as the undisputed public outrage.
According to the BBC, Derek Chauvin did not speak during the hearing as he appeared handcuffed as well as wearing an orange jumpsuit.
The bail of $1.25 million was set by Judge Jeannice M. Reding as the amount without pre-conditions. The $1 million bail amount still stands should Chauvin agree to not contact or speak to “Mr Floyd’s family, surrendering his firearms and not working in law enforcement or security as he awaits trial.” His lawyer did not object.
As Chauvin awaits his next court appearance, set for 29 June, 2020, he is being held at the Minnesota state prison in Oak Park Heights. It has been reported that since his arrest, Chauvin has been relocated and transferred to correctional facilities several times. Reasons for his transfers have not been disclosed.
Chauvin currently faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges against him were increased from third-degree murder following further protesting after it was announced.
For the trial, Chauvin is facing three separate charges, including unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The maximum penalties for these charges are 40 years for second-degree murder, 25 years in prison for third-degree murder and 40 years for second-degree manslaughter.
Bringing Chauvin to court with three different charges can increase the chances of his conviction by the jurors—which is how US prosecution operates.
Across social media, many protesters have been uncertain why Chauvin has not been charged with first-degree murder, which many feel should be his charge. However, in order for Minneapolis to charge Chauvin with first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove premeditation, intent and a motive.
The difference between manslaughter and murder is that being charged with manslaughter is a less serious offence than murder. Of course, in both cases, it means that a person died, but the cause of death varies in the intent of the person accused of attacking. Murder means that the attacker attempted to kill the victim, whereas manslaughter is when a person kills another person, but only intended to hurt them or to exert some force on them.
The world will have to wait for Chauvin’s next court appearance set for 29 June before it can know exactly how many years the ex-police officer will receive but this delay won’t stop protesters from making a difference.
The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the hands of white Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin are carrying on in the US and around the world, demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism. In response, and somewhat unsurprisingly, police violence has been the main reaction to the demonstrations, with continuing attacks towards protestors perpetrated with the use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons, which are also known as ‘less-lethal’ weapons for a more accurate definition.
Despite their deceitful name, non-lethal weapons can do severe damages and lead to death, which is why their abuse should not be underrated. Pepper spray, tear gas, tasers, sound cannons, rubber and wooden bullets, and batons are just some of the many weapons the police in the US are using to disperse and suppress protesters, injuring thousands of people, and in some cases killing them too.
While not all non-lethal weapons are equally dangerous, according to the 2015 annual report written by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the United Nations General Assembly, “Almost any use of force against the human person can under certain circumstances lead to loss of life or serious injury.”
In 1990, in an attempt to reduce the use of firearms by the police, the United Nations adopted the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, but despite its forward-looking intention, the promotion of non-lethal weapons ended up enabling the use of excessive force by police, which we are yet again witnessing during these new anti-police and anti-racism protests.
Take tear gas for instance, which is the chemical weapon that was utilised to disperse protesters minutes before President Trump gave his infamous speech holding an upside-down bible on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, and whose use was actually banned from warfare under the Geneva Convention. Although it remains classified as a non-lethal weapon, tear gas can lead to death, as we saw in the case of Sarah Grossman, a 22-year-old woman who died last week after her asthma was triggered by the tear gas sprayed during the protest she was attending in Ohio. Tear gas can strongly endanger someone with respiratory problems, which makes it even more dangerous in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among other popular non-lethal weapons currently being used during the protests is the baton, which falls under the category of ‘kinetic impact weapons’ (alongside non-lethal guns which use projectiles such as rubber and wooden bullets), which differ from those defined as ‘physiological weapons’ such as sound cannons. Also called Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), sound cannons are extremely loud speakers initially developed to send messages and warning tones over longer distances or at a higher volume than normal loudspeakers.
Used by the police against protesters, their sound is so loud and unbearable it is used to disperse crowds. But as reported by Amnesty International in The human rights impact of less lethal weapons and other law enforcement equipment, sound cannons can inflict long-term (and, in some cases, permanent) damage to someone’s hearing. Less common than other non-lethal weapons, LRADs have recently been used by police in Miami and Denver, as well as in 2014 during the protests following Eric Garner’s death by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
As the conversation surrounding the US police is set to shed light on its systemic violent structure, the abuse of non-lethal weapons should not go unnoticed either. When the police are allowed to use force in the name of state security, armed with both lethal and non-lethal weapons, the basis of that same institutional body should not only be questioned but reconfigured once and for all.
Having to confront strategic violent attacks when protesting for an end to police brutality is the tragic paradox that validates—not that there was any need for extra validation—the requests made by the Black Lives Matter movement. The array of weapons that are handed to the US police speaks of the intrinsic coercive attitude of this state body, and as necessary as it is for the police and its use of weapons (lethal or non-lethal) to be regulated, it is its whole structural violent attitude that needs to change.
Because, as we’ve unfortunately witnessed, it can take only a knee to end a life. Imagine what you can do with an endless supply of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons.