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George Floyd's Family And Lawyers Take A Knee, Call For Justice As Trial Begins

Attorney Ben Crump (center) took a knee with members of George Floyd's family and Rev. Al Sharpton for 8 minutes and 46 seconds outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Monday, shortly before opening arguments began in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Attorney Ben Crump (center) took a knee with members of George Floyd's family and Rev. Al Sharpton for 8 minutes and 46 seconds outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Monday, shortly before opening arguments began in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Moments before the start of the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, members of Floyd's family and legal team gathered outside the courthouse to call for accountability and systemic change in a case they described as a referendum on the U.S. justice system.

They also took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time for which Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd's neck last May in eyewitness video that circulated widely and helped ignite a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality. Floyd's attorneys said on Monday that they hoped justice would be served for him, his family and the entire country.

"Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all," said attorney Ben Crump, adding later that "we're not asking for anything extraordinary, we're asking for equal justice under the law."

Floyd's attorneys were joined outside the Hennepin County Courthouse by a number of his family members including brothers, cousins and a nephew, as well as the civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. They stressed in their remarks, which concluded at 8:46 a.m. local time, that it is Chauvin, not Floyd, who is on trial.

Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Crump and others expressed concern that Chauvin's lawyer would try to blame Floyd for his own death, and urged the public to not be distracted by what they described as attempts to assassinate his character.

For instance, Crump stressed that the Hennepin County medical examiner ruled Floyd's death a homicide by asphyxiation, even though it noted "other significant conditions" including fentanyl intoxication and signs of heart disease. Co-counsel Antonio Romanucci said lawyers had worked to challenge a false narrative that Floyd died of a drug overdose.

"Please do not be distracted," Crump urged. "What killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force."

He also refuted the characterization of the trial as a difficult one, saying repeatedly that "this murder case is not hard when you watch that torture video of George Floyd."

Crump said the video had garnered more than 50 million views on YouTube alone, and that people across the world will be fixated on the trial and its outcome.

"If this trial is hard, we've got two justice systems in America," said Floyd's nephew, Brandon Williams. "One for white America and one for Black America."

Williams stressed the need for accountability in Floyd's death, and said that while his family can't get him back, they hope to be able to prevent other families from going through similar pain and suffering.

Several family members and attorneys advocated for more systemic changes in the country's justice system, such as through legislation that would reform policing at the state and federal level.

Romanucci urged Minnesota lawmakers to pass a bill that would revise an existing state statute to strengthen the ability to hold officers accountable for their actions, and to name it after Floyd. Sharpton called on the U.S. Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House of Representatives passed earlier this month.

"Chauvin is in the courtroom but America is on trial," Sharpton said, urging senators to enact reform at the federal level.

The speakers didn't only discuss the importance of the trial on the national stage, but also shared what it meant to them personally. One of his brothers remembered that Floyd "fell in love" with Minnesota after moving there from Texas.

"Minnesota offered so much to him," he said. "And so George Floyd came to this city to make a better way for himself ... The truth is he was killed in the streets."

Romanucci opened his remarks by saying that Monday is "Day 307 of George Floyd being killed" but "the first day of justice in the criminal case."

The attorneys noted that while they recently reached a historic $27 million civil settlement with the city, a criminal conviction is needed for full justice.

Opening arguments began Monday, and the trial is expected to last about four weeks. Video from inside the courtroom can be streamed here.

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