The first week of the George Floyd death trial saw the raw and compelling testimony of four teenagers and a nine-year-old girl.
Minneapolis, United States – They are not old enough to legally vote or get a driver’s license in the United States. One of them had not even reached his 10th birthday and all but one were too young to have their identities revealed to the public in court.
But they were all old enough to see a man die in front of their own eyes.
Of the 19 people who testified in the first week of the murder trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, 10 were bystanders at the scene when black American George Floyd died. And among them, four were teenagers and one was a nine-year-old girl, pointing out how the jury was asked to relive the incident through the eyes of young people.
Their testimony in the courtroom was often compelling, agonizing, and raw, and could define their young lives for years to come.
For everyone, it was clear that the trauma of witnessing close to Floyd’s death and having to relive it in court was a trauma they are living with now.
“Great tragedies like the death of George Floyd are built on a thousand small tragedies,” said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of St Thomas. “The trauma that witnesses relate is not only a big thing, but also a cascade of small things.”
There was the girl who was 17 at the time of Floyd’s death who was walking to Cup Foods to get food when she saw the commotion, pulled out her cell phone and shot the video of Chauvin with her knee on Floyd’s neck as he cried. to help. The video immediately went global and sparked protests around the world.
In court, she said: “I stayed on my feet to apologize to George Floyd for not doing more.
She was with her nine year old niece and sent her to the store because she didn’t want her to see “a terrified, scared man begging for his life.” The nine-year-old girl was also called by the prosecution to testify, her voice sometimes hesitant and low, but the simple clarity of a child’s words was clear.
“I was sad and a little bit crazy,” she told the court when asked how she felt that day seeing Floyd on the pitch. “Because it was like he stopped breathing and it was kind of like hurting him.”
Osler told Al Jazeera he was surprised prosecutors called a minor to testify.
“I think the government made a mistake in calling a nine-year-old to testify about a really traumatic experience,” he said. “They could have championed their cause without it. The role of government should be to protect people from trauma and they run the risk of re-traumatizing a child in this way when it is not necessary. I think this was a mistake.
Another 18-year-old girl witnessed the incident and told the court she felt desperate.
“It was difficult because I felt like I really couldn’t do anything as a spectator,” she said. “I felt like I was failing him.”
And another, 17, who testified in court that she vividly remembers arriving at the scene hearing “George Floyd’s voice crying for his mother and saying he couldn’t breathe. “.
They are among four witnesses who have been ordered by Judge Peter Cahill to cut off the audio signal while identifying themselves and not to broadcast video of their faces to protect their privacy due to their young age. Only the audio of their testimony was provided by the court, by order of Cahill.
Another teenager, Christopher Martin, 19, testified in open court without his identity being protected. He was a cashier at Cup Foods working at the counter in the tobacco section when Floyd handed him a $ 20 bill to pay for the cigarettes. Martin testified that he suspected the bill was forged but had no way of confirming it, but he took the money and considered paying for the cigarettes himself to avoid any problems. (He said if the manager found out he was accepting a fake invoice, the money would be deducted from his next paycheck).
He testified that he tried to do the right thing and eventually informed the store owner that he suspected it was a fake invoice. The owner told staff to call the police. Minutes later Derek Chauvin and other officers arrived at the intersection of 38th and Chicago and the rest is history.
Martin said he deeply regrets his role in the events.
“If I just hadn’t accepted the bill, all of this could have been avoided,” he said.
An essay which, for a group of teenagers and a nine-year-old, revealed deep pain and left so many people scared to wonder how to approach what they saw then and what they feel now. .