'It could be me': Murder trial in George Floyd's killing sparks fresh feelings of anger, grief

·4 min read
This week, the graphic details of George Floyd's killing have been on full display as Derek Chauvin, the white police officer charged with his murder, began his trial.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images - image credit)
This week, the graphic details of George Floyd's killing have been on full display as Derek Chauvin, the white police officer charged with his murder, began his trial. (Scott Olson/Getty Images - image credit)

Last summer, the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in the United States, sparked an international reckoning over racism and police use of force that stretched north into Canada.

This week, the graphic details of the case have been on full display as Derek Chauvin, the white police officer charged with Floyd's murder, began his trial.

As a result, many people — particularly those in the Black community — are struggling with fresh feelings of anger, grief, and hopelessness, says Roxanne Francis, a psychotherapist whose work includes helping people cope with anti-Black racism and racial trauma.

"A lot of people were very upset, distraught, grief stricken and angry," she says. "People are trying to process these emotions all over again."

Francis says the most common word she's heard people use to describe themselves these days is tired.

"People are feeling very emotionally exhausted and there unfortunately is not a lot of hope that justice will prevail here," she says.

The global outrage prompted by Floyd's death began after a video showed Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes last May.

Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers involved in Floyd's death are expected to go to trial in August.

The Floyd family's lawyer recently told CBC News that the case "is one of the most important civil rights cases in the last 100 years. It is the Emmett Till of today."

Till was a 14-year-old Black boy when he was brutally murdered in 1955 Mississippi. His killers were acquitted and then publicly admitted to killing him.

"There is a kind of kinship that is experienced," Francis says of being inundated with trial details as a Black person, "This person looks like me, for the grace of God, it could be me, it could be a relative."

Richard Miller, founder of KeepSix, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth from racialized communities in Toronto, has been steering clear of the coverage.

"There's a very traumatic load that our community members carry," he says. "A lot of individuals, even including myself… try to stay away from it because it brings back situations or traumatic experiences that we've (had)."

Miller echoed Francis in how difficult it can be to relive, especially when you don't have faith that justice will prevail. It's a reminder, he says, that sometimes even when people do speak up about injustices they experience, particularly with police or the broader criminal justice system, people don't often listen.

"You've got that sense in your mind where, 'this isn't right,' but when you speak up you end up with repercussions or they don't take accountability," he says. "The system needs to be overhauled."

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Paul Erskine, a criminal defense lawyer and member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, says he's looking at the trial, "as a reflection and statement of race relations." Not just in the United States, he says, but Canada too.

"The feelings of mistreatment, the feelings of inequity, of being treated differently and unfairly and being overly policed in our community are universal," Erskine says. "What the final verdict is going to be is going to speak volumes about how we as a society see each other and how we interact with each other."

That's partly why Erskine suspects all eyes will stay riveted to that Minneapolis courtroom, as excruciating as the details may be.

But importance doesn't negate harm and Francis says it's important for people to prepare themselves for the emotional impact.

"There's nothing wrong with turning it off," she says, "but if you are going to watch and witness what's happening then I would suggest having a means to take care of yourself when you are through."

Self care could mean meditating, she says, not watching any coverage after a certain hour to avoid impacting your sleep, having a friend you can call, or earmarking time for a relaxing activity to help lower your stress.

It isn't necessarily easy, Francis acknowledges.

"Society on a whole is potentially waiting with bated breath for the outcome of this trial," she says. "Not having a just outcome suggests to the Black community that Black lives really do not matter and that Black lives are expendable and it's easy to do wrong to a Black individual and not have any consequences."

That, she says, "more than anything else, is the concern."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.