MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – As the Derek Chauvin trial gets underway in the death of George Floyd, American studies experts and the mother of Philando Castile are reflecting on the societal impacts these types of court cases can have.
Five years ago, Philando was pulled over by police in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. The officer said his brake lights were out, but after Philando notified the officer he had a firearm on him, the situation quickly escalated and Philando was fatally shot.
“That man walked out of that courtroom with the evidence that clearly showed him murder my son to the extent he stuck the gun in the car to make sure he shot my son in his heart,” Philando’s mother, Valerie Castile said.
At the end of the trial, the officer was acquitted of all charges.
“In my mind, I was like, you have just given these people free reign to kill,” Ms. Castile said.
Ms. Castile says police brutality will not end if, in her words, officers get away with it.
“If you’re not held accountable, you’re like ‘oohwee, I got away with that. Imma do it again and again and again. And that’s what’s been happening,’” Ms. Castile said.
George Floyd also died in the Twin Cities. A little more than nine months later, the first of four officers at the scene of his death will face his fate in court.
What happened to Floyd -- even though it got so much international attention -- is not new. So, what has come out of trials like these from the past? Do we see societal change?
“Yeah, that’s the hard part. This will be a test,” Dr. August Nimtz said.
Dr. August Nimtz is a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. He has been a professor at the university since 1971. He studies the comparison of race, class and ethnicity in the United States. He says he’s witnessed a lot of change in his lifetime.
“In the 1960s, the anti-police brutality marches were almost exclusively African American,” Dr. Nimtz said.
What he saw in the streets in the weeks following Floyd’s death were marches with multi-racial populations, including large groups of Caucasians. He says that has never happened in the history of anti-police brutality protests.
“It’s a big breakthrough in my opinion,” Dr. Nimtz said.
Outrage over the continuous deaths of innocent people has fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. Dr. Duchess Harris is an expert in the movement and a professor of American studies at Macalester College.
“Only 25% of white American supported Black Lives Matter after the killing of Philando Castile," Dr. Harris said. "That number has catapulted since George Floyd to the point that actually United States Senator Mitt Romney was wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask at a protest.”
No matter what happens during the trials, Dr. Harris says people need to pay attention.
“I want people to be engaged. I think that it’s troubling to me right now that citizens are not engaged in what is happening around the nation,” Dr. Harris said./
Depending on the outcome, Dr. Nimtz believes people will once again take to the streets.
“There will be a lot of outrage. That’s why the ruling authorities have put up all of the barricades,” Dr. Nimtz said.
In Philando’s case, Ms. Castile says there was no justice for her son. She’s anxious to see what will happen in George Floyd’s case.
If the officers are convicted instead of being acquitted, Ms. Castile said, “I would just simply say I can see progress. Thank you, Jesus, thank you Lord.”
She is pleading for justice and hoping for change.
“You had eight minutes to change your mind, and you didn’t. You put your hands in your pocket and adjusted your weight. He did that. And you have to be a damn fool if you don’t think that man is guilty. You have to be a fool,” Ms. Castile said.