Anastasia Katz, American Renaissance, March 31, 2021
See our coverage of the first day of the trial here.
The first witness on Tuesday was Donald Williams, one of the people who saw George Floyd die. He is a black man in his 30s, a former wrestler and professional MMA fighter who now works as a bouncer and security guard. His testimony began with a recording of his 911 call to the police to complain of what he thought was excessive force. In the call, Mr. Williams referred to Derek Chauvin as “Officer 987” because he had made the effort to remember his badge number. He got emotional as the recording played and let out a “Whew!” and wiped his eyes when it finished.
Mr. Williams composed himself when Mr. Chauvin’s defense lawyer, Eric Nelson, began cross-examination. Mr. Nelson recounted the previous day’s testimony, in which Mr. Williams discussed his training in choke holds. A “blood choke” is a wrestling hold that limits blood supply to one side of the neck and can render someone unconscious. At the scene of George Floyd’s arrest, Mr. Williams told Derek Chauvin that it looked as though he was using a blood choke. Mr. Nelson asked how long it takes for someone to pass out from a blood choke, and Mr. Williams said that it takes only a few seconds.
Mr. Williams refused to agree with Mr. Nelson that he had been angry, even after Mr. Nelson reminded him that he was on video cursing and calling Mr. Chauvin names such as “tough guy.” Mr. Nelson reminded him that he had called Mr. Chauvin “bum” 13 times and also called him “bitch.” “You can’t paint me to be angry,” Mr. Williams said, maintaining that his behavior had been “professional.” Mr. Williams had continued to argue with Officer Thao even after Floyd was put in an ambulance and removed.
As Mr. Williams recalled his feelings as he watched George Floyd pass out, Matthew Frank, a lawyer for the prosecution, asked him why he “got more and more angry.” Instead of denying that he was angry, as he had just done, Mr. Williams said it was because the police were not listening to him. Just before Mr. Williams was excused, Mr. Nelson asked if he was able to have a conversation with an opponent while the opponent was being rendered unconscious in MMA. Mr. Williams was taken aback by the question, and said “no.”
Minor witnesses were called next; none of their faces could be seen on TV. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, a black man, talked to a black girl named Darnella Frazier, who was 17 on the day of George Floyd’s arrest, and saw her life change after the 10-minute video she took went viral. She said, “It seemed like he knew it was over for him.”
Mr. Blackwell had her look at a photo of the bystanders, and asked if she would characterize the group as an “unruly crowd.” She said no; the bystanders were just reacting to what they were seeing. “It wasn’t right.” She testified that she did not see violence from bystanders, just from the cops. She said it was unfair to call the bystanders “a mob.”
Miss Frazier said she saw Mr. Chauvin put his hand on his mace, and she felt threatened. “I felt like I was in danger when he did that.” As she filmed the arrest scene, Miss Frazier said it looked like Mr. Chauvin was kneeling harder on George Floyd, “feeding on the energy” of the bystanders. Mr. Blackwell asked her if she saw Mr. Chauvin “let up or get up,” and she said no, but later mentioned seeing him get up when a paramedic motioned for him to do so.
Mr. Blackwell asked Miss Frazier how seeing the way George Floyd died had affected her life. She sighed. “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my Dad; I look at my brothers; I look at my cousins; my uncles, because they are all black . . .” Her voice began to quiver. “I have black friends, and I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them. There have been nights, I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it’s not what I should have done; it’s what he should have done.”
Another witness was Alyssa Funari, a white 17-year-old girl who drove with a friend to “the corner store” and passed the scene of Floyd’s arrest. She parked nearby, and she saw that people standing on the sidewalk were in distress, and there was a man on the ground, also in distress. She borrowed her friend’s phone and got out of the car to film.
Miss Funari saw Mr. Chauvin holding Floyd down with his knee, and could see other officers restraining him. Questioned by prosecutor Erin Eldridge, a white woman, Miss Funari described seeing George Floyd struggling to breathe. She said he was vocal at first, then became less so. “He was talking with smaller and smaller breaths, and he spit when he talked . . . If he were to be held down much longer he would not be able to live. . . His eyes were rolling back, and one point he just sat there.” Miss Funari started crying and Miss Eldridge paused her questioning to allow her to compose herself.
“It was difficult,” Miss Funari said, “Because I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do as a bystander. I felt like I was failing him.” She described feeling powerless because another police officer kept bystanders on the sidewalk, preventing them from getting close. She testified that the men restraining Floyd did not move much, but then observed that Mr. Chauvin’s back foot came off the ground and he put his hand in his pocket. She said she saw Mr. Chauvin’s knee move further down on Floyd. She said his knee remained on Floyd when the paramedics checked Floyd’s neck for a pulse.
The video Miss Funari recorded was shown in the courtroom; her voice is heard on the video, asking Mr. Chauvin, “Why are you kneeing him more?!” After Floyd passed out, she walked away, but soon came back to film a second video. She explained that she walked away because it was hard to watch, but came back to the scene because she knew what was happening was wrong. Miss Funari was heard on her video, shouting to the officers, “It’s over a minute!” and she explained that she was worried “time was running out. He was going to die.” She added, “I kinda knew that he was dead or not breathing.” Miss Funari saw paramedics check Floyd’s eyes and take his pulse. She described feeling “emotionally numb,” afterwards, saying that she “didn’t rush to the internet,” and just tried to go on with her day. “It was a lot to take in.”