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Chauvin's trial leaves Black viewers emotionally taxed

For some it’s too much to watch. Others just can’t turn away.

The televised trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, has provoked strong emotions among many Black men and women — all tinged with an underlying dread that it could yield yet another devastating disappointment.

For many, it has brought back memories of the disturbing video of Floyd’s last moments as he gasped for breath with Chauvin’s knee on his neck. The video galvanized protests in cities across the U.S. and the world, as the words “Black Lives Matter” took hold.

“I had to mute the TV,” said Lisa Harris, 51, of Redford Township, just west of Detroit. “Hearing Mr. Floyd continue to say he can’t breathe and call for his mother — it was a lot. It’s been a lot to watch.”

Steven Thompson remembers closely watching the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and feeling blindsided. Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic, was acquitted on all counts in the unarmed Black teen’s death, including second-degree murder.

“I didn’t expect that outcome,” Thompson, 35, said. “But I’m a lot less ignorant now.”

Thompson is choosing not to watch the trial of Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged with murder and manslaughter, even though he feels there is a strong case against him.

“I definitely have a fear of being let down. And instead of investing my time and energy into it now, knowing how these things go, I’d rather be pleasantly surprised,” the Los Angeles resident said.

Marlene Gillings-Gayle said she had planned not to watch the trial to preserve her peace of mind. But she’s found herself watching almost all of it. She’s had to force herself to go outside and take walks, or risk watching the trial all day and feeling upset.

The retired high school teacher who lives in New York City describes herself as a political person who likes to stay aware of current events and vocalize her opinions.

“I’m trying not to be pissed, because we’ve been here and done that too many times,” she said, referring to other police officers acquitted in the deaths of unarmed Black people. She’s watching the trial with apprehension, as she ponders what Floyd’s killing and the way the trial has unfolded so far says about America and its values.

Chauvin, 45, who was eventually fired from the police force, is accused of killing a handcuffed Floyd last May by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market.

The first week of the trial has included emotional testimonies from several people who witnessed Floyd’s death: The young woman, a teenager at the time, who filmed Floyd’s last moments and told the courtroom she stays “up nights apologizing to George Floyd;” the 61-year-old man who sobbed on the stand, compelling the judge to order a 10-minute recess; the firefighter who begged officers to let her check Floyd’s pulse as he gasped for air, saying, “I was desperate to help.”

The grief and trauma of these witnesses has been on full display, filling in details from new perspectives to create a fuller picture of the scene that people around the world watched over cellphone video last May.

For Kyra Walker, it was enough to tune out and shut down Twitter one day.

“I realized I just didn’t have it in me to watch all this,” she said.

Floyd’s death was traumatizing enough for Walker, but seeing conversations about the trial on Twitter this week brought back a flood of emotions she has grappled with over the course of the last year.

“I had a moment where I just felt broken and I started thinking about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and how in such a short time frame, it was like one Black death after the other, without a break,” she said. It has made her feel paranoid at times for her 11-year-old Black son anytime he leaves home.

The trial is only furthering the uneasiness many felt when the video of Chauvin pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck started to circulate online.

“It took me a while to watch it because I know what these videos are about. I know the ending already,” Thompson said.

Leigh Smith, a logistics operations manager who lives in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, said he has tuned in each day of the trial. He calls some of the testimony “freaking depressing.”

“You catch a murder on camera and you’re going to explain away to me that this man died of a heart attack?” Smith said of Floyd. “All this does is reaffirm the hatred and entrenchment of white supremacy and white domination over communities of color.”

Brenda Hill, 57, of Detroit watched every video during every minute of the trial’s first two days. Hill, who works for a nonprofit that advocates for low-wage workers, isn’t so sure the rest of the country is viewing the trial — or how African Americans continue to be treated — through the same lens.

“We don’t have any trust in this criminal justice system,” she said. “I should be assured that by this time everyone saw what I did. I’m disgusted, I’m hurt by everything.”

As witnesses and attorneys in the courtroom recount the final moments of Floyd’s life in detail, the emotional trauma many Black Americans have felt over the last several years is resurfacing.

“Our country needs counseling,” Gillings-Gayle said. “The witnesses have been grieving and suffering for the last 10 months. And we’ve all been grieving, too.”

Ga. governor vows a fight after MLB yanks All-Star Game from Atlanta

News of Major League Baseball’s decision to pull this summer’s All-Star Game from Georgia over its sweeping new voting law reverberated among fans Saturday, while Gov. Brian Kemp vowed to defend the measure in court, saying “free and fair elections” are worth any threats, boycotts or lawsuits to come.

The Republican governor said at a news conference that the MLB “caved to fear and lies from liberal activists” when it yanked the July 13 game from Atlanta’s Truist Park. He added the decision will hurt working people in the state and have long-term consequences on the economy.

“I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight. We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said.

“Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden and the left, but I am not,” he said, referring to companies that have also criticized the new law.

Three groups already have filed a lawsuit over the measure, which includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run. Critics say it violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as parts of the federal Voting Rights Act that say states cannot restrict Black voter participation.

Kemp has insisted opponents have mischaracterized what the law does, yet Republican lawmakers made the changes largely in response to false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections made by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Fans, meanwhile, appeared divided on the MLB’s decision.

Patrick Smith, a lifelong Braves fan in Ellisville, Mississippi, said he thinks the MLB made the right decision and noted that not taking a stand would have polarized some supporters.

“When governments restrict access to the ballot box, someone has to step in to encourage these entities to roll back those measures,” he said.

Lorre Sweetman, in Kahului, Hawaii, said it was a poor move by the MLB because it wasn’t based on the actual new voting laws but on “political pandering” and misinformation.

Still, while some fans upset about the MLB’s decision have called for a boycott of the professional baseball, she said she will not stop watching MLB games and her three grandsons are still learning baseball.

“They caved to pressure without considering the message this sends to fans who just want to enjoy the game and support their team,” she said. “We need to take politics out of sports.”

But Dick Pagano, a baseball fan in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, said he will not watch or attend any games this year.

“They shot themselves in the foot,” said Pagano, who said he was disappointed to miss the planned Hank Aaron celebration during the All-Star Game, since he once saw him play in the 1957 World Series. Aaron, who played for the Braves in Atlanta and Milwaukee for most of his career, faced extensive hate mail and racism as he closed in on breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record.

Jeffrey Guterman, a retired mental health counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who calls himself an amateur baseball historian, said the move shows baseball changing with the times.

“I’m surprised when people argue that moving it away from Atlanta is a bad move because it would bring lots of money to the area,” he said. “The question is what costs more, moving the All-Star Game or reinforcing the oppression of votes.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday he made the decision to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft from Atlanta after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year. A new ballpark for the events wasn’t immediately revealed.

Kemp criticized the MLB for not taking action on voting access in its home state of New York and said its decision means “cancel culture” is coming for American businesses and jobs.

“They’re coming for your game or event in your hometown, and they’re coming to cancel everything from sports, how you make a living, and they will stop at nothing to silence all those,” he said.

Trump also blasted the league’s move and urged his supporters to “boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections.”

Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, congratulated the MLB for its decision.

“There’s no better way for America’s pastime to honor the great Hank Aaron, who always led by example,” he said.

Deadly breach could delay decisions about Capitol fencing

WASHINGTON — The latest deadly breach of the Capitol’s perimeter could delay the gradual reopening of the building’s grounds to the public just as lawmakers were eyeing a return to more normal security measures following the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Capitol Police officer William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force, was killed Friday when a man rammed his car into a barrier outside the Senate side of the building. The driver, identified as 25-year-old Noah Green, was shot and killed after he ran his car into Evans and another officer, got out and lunged at police with a knife.

The deaths came less than two weeks after the Capitol Police removed an outer fence that had temporarily cut off a wide swath of the area to cars and pedestrians, blocking major traffic arteries that cross the city. The fencing had been erected to secure the Capitol after the violent mob of of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the building Jan. 6., interrupting the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. The violence lead to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.

Police, who took the brunt of the assaults that day, have left intact a second ring of fencing around the inner perimeter of the Capitol as they struggle to figure out how to best protect the building and those who work inside it. That tall, dark fencing — parts of it covered in razor wire until just recently — is still a stark symbol of the fear many in the Capitol felt after the mob laid siege two months ago.

Lawmakers have almost universally loathed the fencing, saying the seat of American democracy was meant to be open to the people, even if there was always going to be a threat.

But after Friday’s attack, some said they needed to procced with caution.

“It’s an eyesore, it sucks,” Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio said about the fencing. “Nobody wants that there. But the question is, is the environment safe enough to be able to take it down? In the meantime, maybe that fence can prevent some of these things from happening.”

Ryan, chairman of a House spending committee that oversees security and the Capitol, stressed that no decisions had been made, and that lawmakers would be “reviewing everything” after the latest deadly incident. His committee and others are looking at not only the fence but at the staffing, structure, and intelligence capabilities of the Capitol Police.

“The scab got ripped off again here today,” Ryan said. “So we’ve got to figure this out.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Saturday that Evans’ death “has only added to the need to address security at the Capitol in a comprehensive way” after the January breach. Along with Ryan’s House panel, two Senate committees have been looking into what changes need to be made.

Despite the fencing, Friday’s breach happened inside the perimeter. The driver slipped through a gate that had opened to allow traffic in and out of the Capitol and rammed a barrier that had protected the building long before Jan. 6. And there was no evidence that Green’s actions were in any way related to the insurrection.

Still, it was a reminder that there is always a target on one of the country’s most visible public buildings, especially as political tensions have risen since the insurrection and there has been broad public scrutiny of the security failures that day.

“This may just cause everybody to pump the brakes a bit on taking the fence down entirely because of the sense of security that it provides us,” said Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, another member of the spending panel that oversees the legislative branch.

As a lawmaker who represents the suburbs of Washington, Wexton said she wants to see the Capitol open again to visitors. While the indoor parts of the building have been closed to the public for the last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the plazas, roads and sidewalks that surround the Capitol were only cut off after the riot, keeping the public completely away from the area.

“I would like to see it come down at the earliest possible moment,” Wexton said of the fencing.

While lawmakers were initially supportive of the fencing to secure the area, and the thousands of National Guard troops sent to the Capitol to back up the overwhelmed police force, they soon said they were ready for a drawdown.

“I think we’ve overdone it,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last month. “It looks terrible to have the beacon of our democracy surrounded by razor wire and National Guard troops.”

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said the fencing should come down because the next security problem is “highly unlikely to be a carbon copy of the last problem.” Republican Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida told Fox News he believed Democrats were keeping the fence up for “political reasons.”

But abhorrence of the fence is a rare issue on which the two parties can agree.

“It’s just ghastly, it’s an embarrassment,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat. “If there’s a better way to protect us, I want to see it. I want to work to get it.”

Security officials, though, say that the Capitol cannot return to what had been status quo.

In February, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers that “the Capitol’s security infrastructure must change.”

A security review requested by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the aftermath of the riot and conducted by a task force recommended eventually replacing the barrier with mobile fencing and “an integrated, retractable fencing system” that could be used as needed. But it is unclear whether such an expensive proposal could win approval from Congress.

Ryan said his committee was doing extensive research and even had a recent call with Israeli security officials to learn how they keep their government secure.

“We’ve got to figure out what the sweet spot is with the security,” he said.

Activists call for nationwide support of fight against voter suppression laws
  • Updated

Civil rights activists are calling for nationwide support in their fight against a Georgia elections bill that is being decried as unconstitutional.

The law, among other actions, allows the state elections board to take control over county election boards deemed as negligent, or failing to meet state standards and appoint new officials over such boards. In addition, it eliminates mobile polling places, presenting an issue of access for voters who can’t get to the polls during traditional hours; and bans water distribution to voters in line. It adds a mandate that voters must provide identification for absentee ballot voting.

The law also removes the Secretary of State from the role of chair of the state elections board and allows the state legislature to appoint a board chair. The Georgia state legislature has been Republican controlled for more than a decade.

In criticizing the law, Francys Johnson, Chairman of the New Georgia Project, referred to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp as “the vote suppressor in chief,” and noted that the law was signed beneath a portrait of the Callaway Plantation, on which enslaved people were kept.

“Before the ink dried on his signature we filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the law was onerous and unnecessarily burdensome to the fundamental right to vote,” Johnson said.

“We’ve asked the court to enjoin to stop the implementation of this law because it will do harm otherwise. We filed our lawsuit first — the New Georgia Project, along with Black Voters Matter and RISE, and then subsequent to that, there’s other litigation filed — the Georgia NAACP, the ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center and others,” he added. “We anticipate there will be additional litigation about this and persons of goodwill who believe that democracy should include as many voices as possible should be outraged.”

Johnson called the law, Senate Bill 202, “the Jim Crow Resurrection Act,” and questioned why lawmakers moved to pass it after Biden took office, an indication, he said, that the legislation is meant to take the voting power from the citizens, especially those of Black and brown communities.

“It is this governor and this secretary of state that certified the Georgia elections — not once, not twice, but three times the last election. It was these same officials, who’ve now passed new laws, that said there was nothing wrong with our laws before and that this was the fairest, freest and most successful election conducted in Georgia history. If that was true, why pass this new ominous 92-page piece of legislation?” said Johnson.

“It is not only undemocratic, it’s not even a Republican principle — they claim they don’t like to centralize power but only if it means their candidate can win.”

The Black Voters Matter Fund, a nationwide organization that registers voters and advocates for policies to expand voting rights has denounced the law and announced a boycott of corporations that don’t speak out against it.

Black Voters Matter co-founders LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright called the law “another disgraceful attempt by the state legislature to kill Black voting power.”

On a statement on their website, they said, “But even after making public commitments to promote racial equity just last year, Georgia lawmakers, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and major players from Georgia’s business community have allowed the measure to pass by turning a blind eye toward blatant efforts to suppress Black votes. We are continuing to hold them accountable for their failure to stand up for Black voters.”

Johnson encouraged nationwide support for their efforts, pointing out how Philadelphians can also get involved.

“Pressure their senator — their U.S. senator to get the Senate to move on Senate Bill 1 [S.B. 1], the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would provide federal oversight in these critical areas and make many parts of the Georgia law moot. That bill is not moving because of America’s fascination with white supremacy tools like the filibuster. We need Democrats to come in line and support ending the filibuster. It shouldn’t apply when it comes to the fundamental rights of Americans. And I can think of nothing more fundamental to citizenship than the right to vote,” said Johnson.

“Secondly, make sure that you are on guard because what is being done in Georgia will become a blueprint for voter suppression across the country.”

Johnson added that similar laws are being proposed in different states, including Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-200), who’s been lauded by the PA-ACLU as a top legislator for supporting civil liberties, said the odds of such a law passing in the commonwealth under Gov. Wolf are slim but that voters should still be aware.

“They’ve introduced many bills that promote voter suppression [but] what makes Pennsylvania different is we have a Democratic governor that opposes voter suppression. He would veto any voter suppression bill and Republicans do not have the votes to override,” he said. “We should be vigilant but we should not be alarmist.”

Other efforts to raise awareness around the Georgia law could include a boycott. Johnson said discussions around which companies will be targeted are ongoing. He called on Georgia-based Coca-Cola, Aflac and Home Depot to join others like Delta, who have denounced the law.

“The New Georgia Project has not formally called for a boycott yet, but we encourage people to always consider your buying power is a part of your voice. We got a list of those companies that not only supported this bill but actually donated money to the legislators who dreamed up this voter suppression in the first place,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take my money and turn around and use it to finance people who are trying to plot a return to Jim Crow. I work too hard for my money and I know the folks in Philadelphia work too hard for theirs.”

Johnson added, “Far too many companies that were willing pay lip service to Black Lives Matter if they could sell more products, and to put Black folks on their commercial during Black History Month, now they have hardly anything to say about things that actually matter in…improving the lives of Black and brown people. They want our money, they want our rhythm but they do not want to share in our blues,” he said. “So, we’re calling on Coca-Cola, which is one of the largest corporations in the world, headquartered in Atlanta, along with Home Depot, [and] Aflac. I can go down the list of not just Fortune 500 companies but Fortune 50 companies that are headquartered in Georgia that need to speak up about what their value is when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”