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Witnesses at Derek Chauvin trial recount anguish, helplessness watching George Floyd's death

·Politics Editor
·4 min read
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Almost a year after witnessing George Floyd’s death beneath the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, some of the bystanders who watched Floyd die testified Tuesday that they felt helpless as the fateful incident unfolded.

When asked about her emotions at not being able to render aid to Floyd, Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter who filmed the incident while off-duty, broke down in tears and said she was “totally distressed.”

“There was a man being killed,” she said, under questioning from the prosecution. “And had I had access to a call similar to that, I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was denied that right.”

Hansen was among five witnesses called Tuesday — all of them bystanders at the Cup Foods convenience store when Floyd died on May 25 — who testified in Chauvin’s murder trial. The trial is expected to last several weeks and could include hundreds of witnesses.

Genevieve Clara Hansen
Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen testifying at the Derek Chauvin trial. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

None of the bystanders who testified Tuesday knew who Floyd was before he died. But most of them seemed pained when they were asked to recount what they saw and witnessed that day. At times during the testimony, some sparred with Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, whose line of questioning seemed to suggest that the bystanders had made it more difficult for the police officers gathered at the scene to do their job.

Nelson asked Hansen, a firefighter for about two years, if she would be distracted if she had 20 or so people yelling at her or threatening her while trying to perform her duties.

“I know my job and I would be confident in doing my job and there’s nothing anybody can say that would distract me,” she replied emphatically.

Under questioning from Nelson, Hansen admitted that she’d grown angry and at one point called the officers a "bitch."

“There was no point in trying to reason with them because they’d just killed somebody,” she said.

Donald Williams, right, and Derek Chauvin, left
Witness Donald Williams, right, at the Derek Chauvin trial. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

Nelson also had a tense exchange with Donald Williams, a student of martial arts who was at the scene when Floyd died. Nelson asked Williams about insults he had directed at the officers during the incident.

“You called [Chauvin] a tough guy, right?” Nelson asked. “You called him a bum at least 13 times.”

“I did,” Williams said, later adding that he remained controlled during the encounter.

Earlier, Williams testified that he was scared for his own safety as he pleaded with Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck — and that he called 911 after Chauvin did not respond to him.

“I did call the police on the police,” Williams said. “Because I believe I witnessed a murder.”

Another witness, Darnella Frazier, whose footage of Floyd was viewed by millions, indicated that she remained haunted by the scene after Floyd’s death. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she said. “But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done, it’s what [Chauvin] should have done.”

The bystanders
The bystanders who testified at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin on Tuesday. (Screengrab Court TV via Reuters Video, annotated and adjusted to protect a minor by Yahoo News)

Another witness, Alyssa Funari, who was 17 at the time of the incident, also expressed regret.

“It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do as a bystander,” Funari said. “I felt like I was failing.”

Funari said she had driven to Cup Foods with her friend to purchase an aux cord for her car when she noticed the police presence. She testified that when she walked toward the store, she saw four police officers and Floyd on the ground.

Funari, who had started recording the incident, said she heard Floyd say “he couldn’t breathe and that his stomach hurt and that he wanted his mom.” Floyd “looked like he was struggling,” she said. “He looked like he was fighting to breathe.”

Eric Nelson
Defense attorney Eric Nelson. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

In his opening statement on Monday, Nelson sought to counter the narrative that Floyd was completely at the mercy of the officers. He described Floyd as combative and resistant, and said the evidence will show that, when confronted by police, he “put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them” from the officers.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.


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