A Narrative Collapse in Chauvin Trial

Though not as prominent as the George Zimmerman prosecution, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death last year of George Floyd is currently underway. The trial result threatens to set off another round of violence and official anti-white racism. 

Some of the facts are well known, due to ubiquitous camera phones that captured Floyd’s last moments. Floyd, a lifelong criminal and convicted felon, had tried to pass a counterfeit bill earlier in the day. Following a complaint from the store owner, the police came to arrest him. He acted erratically during his encounter with the police, the police restrained him, and he died. 

While Chauvin and two other officers kept Floyd restrained with their body weight for some time, during which Floyd complained he couldn’t breathe, autopsy evidence pointed to a drug overdose as the cause of death. 

After his death last year and the widespread dissemination of the video of his police encounter, a concerted campaign by activists, the media, and corporate America made Floyd the spark for a summer of “mostly peaceful” protests on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The Trial Is Not a Slam Dunk So Far

Thus far the state appears more competent than the team brought in against Zimmerman. Chauvin also appears to have very competent defense counsel. When a defendant has a good lawyer, this is half the game. While the jury is not perfect from a defense standpoint, it is not terrible either. That said, every single member of the jury pool expressed fear that a defense verdict would lead to retaliation.

As for Chauvin, I am inclined to think he is not guilty of the murder charges, not least because a murder case requires the murderer actually to cause the death of the victim. A merely incidental form of violence followed by a death does not cut it. Floyd did not die of trauma, asphyxiation, or anything else that happened during the arrest. He ingested large quantities of drugs and had an overdose; the state’s autopsy says so. The video evidence also shows this, once you are aware of what to look for. 

The length of time and manner in which Floyd was restrained looked a bit unusual. It is also possible Chauvin is guilty of battery. But there are many times when similar violence—chokeholds, batons, or tasers—is required, and Floyd was a very big man who was high on drugs at the time and resisting arrest.

Observers following the trial closely have described most of the prosecution witnesses and evidence as middling at best. Some of the eyewitnesses who cajoled the police were less than impressive on the stand, several being admonished by the judge for giving evasive answers. One older black gentleman urged Floyd to stop resisting arrest, which provides some context for the police behavior. And, in the biggest surprise, while we were told George was crying for his mama as he lay dying on the street, it turns out his drug addict girlfriend was saved in his phone as “Mama.” She also revealed Floyd had dealt drugs, had a similar overdose only months earlier, and recently relapsed.

The media has mostly downplayed these details.

The Narrative Distorts Reality 

One serious problem with the media is that it is so used to packaging news into ideological narratives that the general public has no idea really what’s happening. It’s not just a question of slant or editorializing; the facts are concealed, revealed, or even made up as necessary to support a message. 

This is true in this case and in many others. While the availability of raw data and some exposure to original sources alleviates this, most people do not have the time, energy, or inclination to dig into every fishy story. And certain people are particularly credulous, especially when believing the narrative accrues social approval. 

For the Chauvin trial, mainstream media reports have uniformly emphasized the prosecution scoring points. Floyd’s drug use and violent activities have been given short shrift. Prosecution missteps—the “mama” incident, the defiant female firefighter at the scene, the MMA expert who apparently did not know how a “blood choke” works in jujitsu—have not helped the prosecution’s case. 

We have seen this gap between reporting and reality before. The officers on trial following the 1991 Rodney King incident provided ample evidence that their use of batons was required, not least because King had charged them, would not stop resisting arrest, was impervious to tasers, and the LAPD had substituted the baton for the chokehold some years earlier. While the video appeared brutal, the jury hearing the case heard a lot of information that never reached the public. The video of the beating—a prototypical beginning to similar, viral national media stories today—had been treated as an open-and-shut indictment of the officers’ conduct, but it ended up helping the defense. The officers’ lawyers dissected it, frame by frame, and showed adherence to police procedure. 

In 1992, after their acquittal, much of Los Angeles was aghast. No one thought the officers could possibly be acquitted. Opportunists and an angry populace pounced; Los Angeles soon became engulfed in deadly riots. Part of the community’s shock and anger arose from relentless and irresponsible media propaganda. The media didn’t show parts of the video where King violently resisted arrest, and their coverage of the trial mostly ignored the evidence that the police officers’ conduct—while violent—was defensible under the procedures and protocols in place at the time. They managed expectations in reverse.

Sites such as Power Line and Legal Insurrection and commenter Andrew Braca have done an admirable job of conveying the details of the Chauvin trial to interested readers, just as they did with the Zimmerman case. Since the law only requires the defense to show reasonable doubt, the defense attorneys believe there is a fair chance Chauvin will be acquitted.

I am not so sure. The atmosphere surrounding the case is one of a lynch mob. And we live, much more than we did at the time of the Zimmerman or Rodney King trials, in a time of cancellation, where safety, privacy, lives, and livelihoods may be ruined after deviating from the party line. 

But if an acquittal happens, it will almost certainly be a surprise. And it will almost certainly be followed by widespread rioting and violence. 

Riot Season

This is a natural and predictable result of a case like this—one involving allegations of racism and police brutality. Even so, it is striking how many defend violent rioting as an acceptable response to a crime or a verdict. The rioters are treated as having no agency in their decision to react in this completely pointless, unproductive way. 

This turn of events has a strong relationship to the narrative, including the meta-narrative of white guilt. The production and cultivation of a narrative assume we are prone to wrong-think and need to be selectively lied to, bribed, and manipulated to do the right thing. Consider the use of narratives during the COVID-19 episode. Masks were deemed useless at first, not because evidence said so, but because there was a worry they would not be available for hospitals. Then, later, they were treated as a panacea. 

On issues of race, the media is relentlessly and willfully blind to the facts. Small, unrepresentative incidents become national news because they make whites look bad and reinforce the status of blacks as a victim class. After a supposed epidemic of police shootings, Anti-Asian violence is being used to excite people about the phantom threat of white supremacy, even though most of the perpetrators of the high-profile incidents are black.

This approach worked more effectively in an age of media gatekeeping, but the very thing that gives life to these events—raw video—also serves to support alternative interpretations of them. In other words, because crime statistics, local news stories shared among friends on Facebook, and raw video are out there, the curious and skeptical can find out much more detail about what is really going on and the full extent of media dishonesty. 

There is almost no reason to trust the media today. Their turn toward increasingly crude propaganda is a disservice to the country and undermines their self-image as an important check on power. Intelligent people learn this early and generally seek out multiple sources and primary data on subjects of interest. 

The media also bear responsibility for the fruits of their dishonesty, such as violent riots by impressionable, impulsive people. Rather than revealing a guilty defendant, their concealment of evidence in the Chauvin case reveals their own guilt and unprofessionalism. Their willingness to mislead and manipulate shows they know narratives matter and have consequences for people’s beliefs and actions. 

When the jury returns its verdict, and the weight of reality collapses on the false media narrative, the results will likely be more violent than the mere first impressions of last summer.

About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, The Journal of Property Rights in Transition, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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