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March 04, 2021
What A Day
The Trial Of Derek Chauvin

In This Episode

  • Jury selection begins next week for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck and killed him last summer. We spoke to Jamiles Lartey, staff writer at The Marshall Project, about Chauvin’s history of using excessive force and how that could play into the trial.
  • And in headlines: the House passes a bill to fight voter suppression and protect democracy, President Biden agrees to narrow the income limits of people eligible to get a COVID relief check, and Amazon changes its new logo to make it look less like Hitler.

 

Transcript

 

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, March 4th. I’m Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we have used WandaVision as the inspiration for our show’s new nickname: AkelaGideon.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we’re just like the MCU. We fight crime, but mostly it’s over Zoom. So . . .

 

Gideon Resnick: We’re still effective, though. On today’s show, a conversation with journalist Jamiles Lartey about Derek Chauvin and his upcoming trial over the killing of George Floyd. Then some headlines.

 

Akilah Hughes: Right. So next week in Minnesota, jury selection will begin in the Derek Chauvin trial. He’s the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck and killed him last summer. And after jury selection, the trial itself is expected to begin at the end of the month. Chauvin is currently facing charges of second degree murder and second degree manslaughter. And Keith Ellison, the state attorney general, is working to reinstate a charge of third degree murder as well. It’s a big case, obviously, and it’s definitely going to get a lot of media attention in the coming days. Already there are reports of security preparations being taken around the courthouse, including barbed wire. It is intense.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. And so we wanted to take some time today to dive a little bit deeper. Last month, the Marshall Project reporters, Jamiles Larty and Abbie VanSickle, published a report detailing prior instances where Chauvin used excessive force—very similar excessive force—in restraining people, and got their firsthand account of those encounters. We spoke with Jamiles about this reporting, how it could play into the trial and what the results will or won’t mean for the American police system. Here’s our conversation.

 

Akilah Hughes: Jamiles, thank you so much for being on the show.

 

Jamiles Lartey: I appreciate you having me.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so let’s talk about Derek Chauvin. All right, so he was a Minneapolis police officer for almost 20 years. First off, what exactly do we know about his record as an officer and his past incidents of violence?

 

Jamiles Lartey: Well, what we know is that Derek Chauvin was the subject of at least 22 complaints over his career as a Minneapolis police department, and we know only one of those incidents resulted in any discipline of any kind. What we also know through our reporting is that a number of folks who encountered Derek Chauvin as a police officer were taken down or arrested in sort of startlingly similar ways to the way that George Floyd was arrested. Which, and by that I mean either grabbed by the neck or held down with force and pressure applied to the neck or the top of the back, while prone on the ground.

 

Akilah Hughes: Wow, that’s horrible. Jeez. And you spoke to some of the people that Chauvin had violently arrested. You know, I’ve read some of those articles, they’re really, really excellent—but can you tell us a little bit more about, you know, those individuals and what they had to say about their encounters with him?

 

Jamiles Lartey: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’d start with the woman who was the first person we mentioned in our article, Zoya Code. She was arrested by Derek Chauvin after a domestic incident in her in her home. And, you know, she just—it was very emotional for her to talk about it. She just described it as, you know, this man—Zoya’s maybe about 100, 110 pounds soaking wet—how they, you know, arrested her in her own home, handcuffed her, how she wasn’t fighting back or resisting in any way, they, they carried her out of her home while handcuffed, placed her on the ground. That’s actually one of the things that that came up in our, our reporting, in the police report they had said that they placed her on the grass. Zoya told us that she remembered very distinctly being placed on the concrete and how, you know, how hard and how uncomfortable it was to be under Chauvin’s knee with her, her upper body all, all pressed into the concrete. And the attorney general in their report, or in a report, that detailed this arrest, were able to get a hold of the body camera footage and it showed that, in fact, Zoya had been placed primarily on the concrete. But yeah, to go back to her account, you know, she just remembers not resisting, but just thinking, you know: they’re going to kill me. Zoya knew Philando Castile, not really well, but, but she knew him. She’d known him from growing up in Minneapolis. And this was about a year after he had been killed in a Minneapolis suburb by a St. Anthony police officer and she remembered and— you know, really stuck with me—calling out, you know, don’t kill me, don’t kill me like you killed coz.

 

Akilah Hughes: Jeez. So in all of these incidents, you know, what really stood out to you in these stories and in these interviews, you know, with these people who are speaking now for the first time about their experiences? You know, not just the consistency, but the fact that it’s all with the same person. [laughs] And, you know, I guess I’m just curious when you’re hearing this, because, you know, you’re reporting on it, how do you sort of, you know, feel about that?

 

Jamiles Lartey: I don’t know, I mean, I think, you know, first and foremost, it’s always empathy, right? And being thankful that people are willing to, to revisit these painful memories and traumatic memories and do so in the service of the general public, you know, understanding what happened. So I think that’s the first thing that comes up for me, for me personally. I think one of the other things that stood out is, you know, all of the people who we spoke to for this story had a number of interactions with police and law enforcement in their lives before.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah.

 

Jamiles Lartey: And yet they all sort of singled Derek Chauvin out as being uniquely gruff or abrasive or uncaring about their pain or discomfort.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah.

 

Jamiles Lartey: Right, So, you know, like there’s a—I think some people have an intuition that: oh, you know, anyone who gets arrested is going to feel like the cop treated them badly because no one wants to get arrested. That may be true to, to some degree but, you know, I talked to some use-of-force experts while reporting the story, and I kind of mentioned that point. And one of the folks I talked to, I remember him saying, you know: no, actually, you know, most people who are justice-involved kind of care about procedure and they care about—you know, OK, fine, you know, I was I was doing something wrong, you caught me, you arrested me, it is what it is, but treat me like a human being.

 

Akilah Hughes: Right.

 

Jamiles Lartey: Right? Treat me like my life matters. And so that is also one of the things that that stood out to me. You know, this this felt like it was a bridge too far for all the all the people who we spoke to.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. It’s not bitterness, it’s, you know, just an accurate description of how people are feeling. They are being treated—

 

Jamiles Lartey: Right. Right. That’s a great way to put it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. And so at this point, prosecutors want to use these cases at Chauvin’s trial and other examples where he didn’t actually use excessive force. What are prosecutors saying so far and how important is this to their overall case?

 

Jamiles Lartey: Yeah, I can’t speak on how important it is to their case. I can say that a number of these of these individuals are on the witness list. So there is a potential that they will be called. What I can also say is that the judge, the federal judge in this case, Judge Cahill, has rejected the majority of the cases that prosecutors had raised. They’re basically, they’re allowing two cases to be entered into evidence in this matter and they’ve they’ve rejected the majority of them, or the judge has rejected the majority of them. And so, you know, I think that’s one of one of the reasons why this story also felt, if you you could say gratifying to publish, is that the jury in this case is not, is unlikely to hear many of the stories that we told, you know, but the public will be able to hear what these folks had to have to say about it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. And then on the other side, Chauvin’s lawyers don’t want the cases introduced. The court is limiting the number of cases, like you said. How standard is that? And what, if anything, does that say about the defense that we think they’re going to mount?

 

Jamiles Lartey: Yeah, that’s you know, that is kind of standard defense attorney practice, right, is to more or less come up with motions to try to get every piece of evidence that’s that, that prosecutors try to enter thrown out for one reason or another. So I wouldn’t read too far into it. I think I would just say that, you know, the defense’s explanation for why all of those cases should be thrown out or not included I think do probably offer some kind of preview of what we will hear in the overall defense, which is basically that as an officer, Derek Chauvin in particular, but officers in general need to gain compliance of uncompliant people and he did so according to his training. That’s what you see in all of the responses to why those cases should not have been included and I think that is the the bottom line defense that we will hear in this case.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a good point. I mean, all eyes are definitely about to turn to Minneapolis again with the trial coming up. You know, it could be something similar to like what we saw with George Zimmerman, or the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile, you know. So is there anything you’re sort of bracing yourself for, or thinking about coverage-wise as the trial is getting underway?

 

Jamiles Lartey: There’s going to be a lot of attention on Minneapolis: attention on protest, demonstration, the bracing for a decision or a non-decision. I think we’ve all become kind of well-accustomed to that, that rhythm of, you know, there’s a trial and then there’s a moment where we wait and then we get a decision. And, you know, so I mean, I think this is going to be like similar trials in the past, but probably supercharged in a way, because this case, again, has galvanized attention in a way that no, no prior case really, really ever had.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and to that point, sort of the idea of this possibly standing for something bigger in the country and around the world, what if any kind of precedent would be set in the state or around the country by the result in this trial in either direction?

 

Jamiles Lartey: The simple answer is none. A single police officer being convicted of a police killing doesn’t really set—it’s happened before. It happened in the Walter Scott case. The officer, Michael Slager, was convicted by a, or well he accepted a plea deal on federal charges. It didn’t change the landscape. It’s happened before in other cases, it didn’t change the landscape. Like the overwhelming fact remains that the system, as it’s currently designed, is not designed to hold police criminally accountable for killing people while on duty.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So the solution can’t just come from this case. It’s, it’s more of a systemic issue.

 

Jamiles Lartey: No, and I think that’s, you know, something that I always try to mention in these conversations, right? These individual cases become flashpoints for understandable reasons, and that’s just human nature. That’s how we kind of understand the world around us is through anecdotes. Obviously, you know, the whole industry of journalism is basically built around, largely about telling stories through anecdote.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah.

 

Jamiles Lartey: But, you know, policing is not the story of what one person does to another person. That’s not—if we think of policing in those terms, then we’re missing the forest for the trees and a lot of ways. But the broader question of policing is: what have we as a society tasked police officers with doing, and what is the range of possibilities from really bad to really good within, within that that set of tasks? And that’s more or less what we’re looking at when we look at the landscape of American policing.

 

Gideon Resnick: Well, you’ve given us a ton to think about. This has been a really great conversation. Really appreciate it, Jamiles. Thank you so much for being on our show today.

 

Jamiles Lartey: I really appreciate you having me. Thank you.

 

Akilah Hughes: All right, that was Jamiles Lartey from the Marshall Project. We’ve put a link to a story in our show notes, and that’s the latest.

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’ve got some sad movie news: Alamo Drafthouse announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection yesterday following a pandemic driven downturn in business. The company’s founder said that restructuring will help Alamo stay afloat and predicted that it would be doing great business again by the end of the year. But they will have to close three locations. Alamo is known for its expansive food and drink menu and special screening. So Giddy, what are your thoughts on Alamo and on the story?

 

Gideon Resnick: The story, it makes me sad because I love Alamo. Alamo is a very fun place to go for flicks. I like, I mean, obviously the food stuff is great, you know, being able to like order in the dark during a movie is awesome and have somebody bring you food. I think it’s great. But like all of the other stuff that’s sort of like built around the various movies that you see, and like how there are those special intros of various celebrities saying, like: turn off your phone or like we will kill you. Like, things like that make the whole experience super, super fun. I used to go like almost every weekend for a stretch of time, especially when it was cold. So this is a, this is a bummer, but it sounds like, you know, hopefully they will be OK by the end of the year. And that is great because I will give them a million dollars to see any movie at this point.

 

Akilah Hughes: I mean, you could give me a million dollars and I’ll just make a movie theater, like it’s fine. [laughs] Like have a backyard, I’ll figure something out for you. Please give me that money.

 

Gideon Resnick: That’s, that’s an option as well. As soon as I find this, we can talk business. We can have my people talk to your people.

 

Akilah Hughes: Suddenly there’s no money for it [laughs].

 

Gideon Resnick: Of course. Ooooh, misplaced. There’s a million dollars that I have right in front of me. Yeah. So how do you feel about all of this?

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s definitely a bummer, but it seems like it’s par for the course for the pandemic. Like, you know, like I can’t say that they won’t come back and I hope that they do. I really love Alamo Drafthouse. I was a member. I, I would often go as well. I’ve see, I’ve seen like a lot of, not really—I mean some of them are premiere’s, like real premieres—but they also just had like fun special screenings of stuff like you were mentioning. Like, you know, oh goodness, the squeaks, Fauci! Like, they have like, you know, Cats, which I haven’t seen. But they had that, like, Rowdy Screening where you can yell at the screen. They just had, like, a bunch of cool stuff. So as far as, like a fun thing to do with friends, I just, I think that that’s a bummer to not have it but also, what have I had in the past year?! I’ve had nothing.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s true. It’s true. The Cats Rowdy Screening: man, that’s another one where I’m like, you know, all the events that you were sort of on the fence about before the pandemic started and you’re like, I should’ve just gone. I should’ve just gone to Cats Rowdy Screening. It used to be a joke around WAD about cats? I know at least John saw it. Perhaps others saw it. I should have gone because that’s, that’s not going to come back. That specific event is not going to come back. And that makes me sad.

 

Akilah Hughes: I mean, you know, I have two schools of thought about that, which is one) did cats cause the pandemic? [laughs]

 

Gideon Resnick: It could have. It could have.

 

It was sort of the last big thing before we all were like: oh, crap, we have to stay home. But also not a regret I have. Of all the things that I miss seeing at the Alamo Drafthouse—still not on the list. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. Go see a movie in your house. Hopefully soon you’ll get to go to a theater and we’ll be back after some ads.

 

Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: The House passed a major Democratic reform bill yesterday that aims to fight voter suppression and corruption in Congress and more. H.R.1 or the For The People Act, was originally passed through the House in 2019, but later died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now Democrats are preparing for its second run, with some added provisions like safer practices for voting during the pandemic and protections against foreign interference in U.S. elections. Broadening ballot access and preventing gerrymandering is essential to protect our elections and our democracy. The House also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last night, a bill that would ban police chokeholds and some no-knock warrants. Republicans who are against both bills have the numbers to block them in the Senate with a filibuster so the remaining option for Democrats to pass this is to end the filibuster itself. Their main obstacles in that effort are moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who are pathologically addicted to Senate procedure and compromise.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they’re not great. Also in compromise updates: President Biden agreed yesterday to narrow the income limits of people eligible to get a coronavirus relief check. Under the new proposal, payment will be cut off to individuals earning more than 80,000 and couples making more than 160,000, meaning that if this change is adopted, nine million households that got a check under Trump will not be getting a check under Biden. Adult dependents like college students may actually benefit from expanded eligibility, getting checks for the first time. Biden’s deal was made as a concession to moderate Democrats in the Senate—thanks again, Joe Manchin, really, really, really great—as Democratic leaders scramble to ensure that they get the 50 votes needed from their own party for the legislation to pass.

 

Gideon Resnick: The only concession I want is the one I have at the Cats Rowdy Screening at Alamo. Just bringing it, bringing it all back home here. [laughs] Uh, the first thing you learn in graphic design is don’t make logos that look like Hitler. But that lesson went unheeded by Amazon last month. For its new mobile app icon, the company tried to evoke a cardboard box by putting the curved Amazon arrow under a small square of blue tape. That combo could also be interpreted as the lips and nasty mustache of one of history’s worst guys. So earlier this week, Amazon quietly made some tweaks to De-Hitler’ize its logo. Publications that asked Amazon whether the resemblance led to the changes, didn’t get a straight answer. We could all be better about admitting our own mistakes. I’ll just say right now that many of the meals I make come out looking like Osama bin Laden, which makes me throw them away, which is why I’m always so hungry. It makes sense. The new icon replaces the shopping cart that was Amazon’s logo for five years.

 

Akilah Hughes: In the latest move towards an Internet that doesn’t have free access to our thoughts, dreams and desires, Google announced yesterday it would stop using technologies to track user behavior across websites. These are the technologies that service ads for timeshares in Aspen after we do one search for snowboarding. They’re a crucial tool for digital advertisers and since Google is the world’s biggest digital advertiser, their decision will be felt across the industry. Google will continue developing technologies that target users, but they’ll be more protective of privacy, bundling users into groups with similar interests rather than targeting them as individuals, for example. Good luck putting me in a box, I shop like a drunk teenager with amnesia. The new policy will go into effect next year. Until then, I will protect my privacy by continuing to never let my phone hear me talk about products or brands.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m going to whisper Crest just to myself over and over.

 

Gideon Resnick: Smoke signals it is. And those are the headlines. One last thing before we go, the newest season of Ana Marie Cox’s podcast, With Friends Like These, is all about forgiveness and reconciliation, and there’s a new episode out on Friday.

 

Gideon Resnick: Ana is joined by Marie Chaumant to discuss how enforcing the death penalty poisons everyone who is part of it. Check it out. Subscribe to With Friends Like These on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, track our browsing history, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just the delicious menu at Alamo Drafthouse like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And avoid Hitler in logo’s.

 

Akilah Hughes: Literally draw anything else. How hard is it? It’s a box. You could have just drawn a box.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. The one thing I learned in marketing school was: avoid Hitler. You know.

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s not difficult. I’ve never drawn Hitler, accidentally or on purpose. So what’s your excuse?

 

Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.

 

Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.

 

Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.

 

Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.

 

What A Day