Don’t believe the hype.
The name “George Floyd” was a top trending topic on Twitter Monday afternoon, but not because the former police officer who is charged with the unarmed Black man‘s murder will go on trial next week. It’s because TMZ was the latest mainstream media outlet to refer to the upcoming court case as the “George Floyd” trial.
Critics argued that calling it such a name subliminally suggests that Floyd is the one who is on trial, not Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer who was recorded on a viral video casually using his knee to apply deadly pressure to the neck of Floyd, who was handcuffed and being steadily pressed face-first into the hot Minneapolis pavement in broad daylight in front of a growing crowd of witnesses on Memorial Day.
To be sure, this is much more than just a simple case of semantics.
Chauvin has been charged with one count of second-degree unintentional murder and one count of second-degree manslaughter for George Floyd’s killing. Floyd was suspected of the decidedly nonviolent crime of using a counterfeit bill — an offense that does not carry the death penalty in any country, let alone require the use of force.
To this date, it is still unclear if counterfeit money was even involved. However, it is very clear that Floyd is not the one who is on trial, prompting people to wonder aloud and especially on social media why the case was even being referred to like that in the first place.
The mere phrase “George Floyd trial” lends credence to the persistent yet ultimately unsuccessful efforts to criminalize Floyd in death, treatment frequently afforded to Black men who have been killed by law enforcement. The strategy has been effective in convincing juries to acquit police officers despite overwhelming evidence that the killings were unjustified.
A quick review of past high-profile murder trials shows that the critics have a very valid point.
When Botham Jean was inexplicably gunned down by a trigger-happy cop who mistook the Black man eating ice cream on his sofa for a burglar in her apartment, the narrative was “The Amber Guyger Trial.” It was called the “George Zimmerman Trial” when a neighborhood watch volunteer racially profiled 17-year-old and unarmed Trayvon Martin. OJ Simpson, the Menendez Brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, Casey Anthony — they all had eponymous murder trials.
That historic precedent makes any reference to a “George Floyd trial” even more curious.
Undeterred by journalistic tradition, the conservative Wall Street Journal published a report Monday morning suggesting that prosecutors will be hard-pressed to prove Chauvin’s guilt despite video evidence. Its headline: “George Floyd Trial Centers on Police Tactic That Is Hard to Prosecute.”
Ignoring the low hanging fruit that is the obvious lack of diversity in mainstream media likely responsible for framing headlines as such, it’s obvious more than ever that in 2021 — when we’re fresh off an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and ensuing presidential impeachment because of rhetoric — words matter.
Jury selection for Derek Chauvin’s murder trial begins March 8.