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As second week of Chauvin trial concludes, it looks like TV might make a difference in a good way | COMMENTARY

In this image taken from video, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell questions witness Dr. Bill Smock, a Louisville physician in forensic medicine, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Thursday, April 8, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
In this image taken from video, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell questions witness Dr. Bill Smock, a Louisville physician in forensic medicine, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Thursday, April 8, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool) (AP)

I might be naive or overly optimistic, but as the second week in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin comes to an end, I am starting to believe this is one TV production that might actually make a lasting difference in the way some of us think about race and policing. It might also change some minds opposed to cameras in the courtroom.

Part of the reason for that is the methodical way the prosecution is presenting its case primarily for the cameras and, therefore, for the way tens of millions of viewers make sense of the world.

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Over the years, legal and media analysts have argued that TV cameras in the courtroom would debase legal proceedings by having lawyers, judges and others playing to the cameras and talking in simplified TV ways about complicated matters. You know, “dumbing it down.”

I disagree. I believe the trial of Chauvin demonstrates that a case directed toward the TV cameras can also be a highly effective case in the courtroom. We are a video nation, and we don’t leave our ways of seeing the world at the courthouse door.

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The prosecution opened its case speaking the primary language of TV: visuals. It showed the shocking, heartbreaking citizen video shot by then 17-year-old Darnella Frazier of George Floyd’s agonizing death on the street under Chauvin’s knee. As a visual, it was visceral.

But later in the week, the prosecution brought Frazier to the witness stand where she testified about the trauma with which she still suffers after witnessing Floyd’s death. She also testified that she sent her 9-year-old cousin who was with her into a nearby store so she would not be traumatized by seeing what Chauvin was doing to Floyd. The words resonated with me and the intense reaction I had to seeing the video of the murder. The raw emotions and straightforward words expressed in court by Frazier and other witnesses who were on the street that day further amplified the power of the video.

This week, we saw police trainers and officials also testifying in words and concepts we could all understand to one central truth: What Chauvin did to Floyd was not how he was trained, no matter what the defense claims. It violated his training in several ways.

Thursday and Friday, there was straightforward testimony from veteran forensic medical experts saying Floyd died from what Chauvin and the other officers on the scene did to him, not from a weak heart or any drugs in his system.

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“Activities of law enforcement officers resulted in Floyd’s death,” forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas succinctly said Friday.

Straightforward is not necessarily simplistic.

The prosecution is using television wisely and effectively to make its case, not just in the courtroom but also in the global court of public opinion.

They will be studying this case for years in law and media schools.

David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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