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TV and video played historic role in bringing Derek Chauvin to justice for the murder of George Floyd | COMMENTARY

People celebrate the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Tuesday April 20, 2021, as a sign is changed to show "justice served." Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd while in police custody last year.
People celebrate the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Tuesday April 20, 2021, as a sign is changed to show "justice served." Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd while in police custody last year. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

The video and television coverage of the murder of George Floyd and trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is landmark. And I believe it will be remembered by media historians for being as important in pointing the nation toward social justice as the 1960s network news images of peaceful civil rights marchers being beaten, fire-hosed and attacked by police dogs in the South.

It is easy to get lost in the joyous images Tuesday afternoon from the streets of Minneapolis as the verdicts of guilty for Chauvin on all three counts of murder and manslaughter were announced. There was a great and righteous feeling of joy and catharsis just seeing those images on the screen. I can imagine what it was like to be with the crowd in front of the store where Floyd was killed.

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But the one thing I kept thinking about as I watched the celebrations is the courage and sense of decency of the then-17-year-old who stood on the curb in front of that store with her cellphone and recorded the video. The footage shook the world with its unmistakable evidence of how deep racism runs in the veins of some police officers like Chauvin and his accomplices who did nothing to stop the torture of Floyd. Darnella Frazier, now 18, testified in court to the effects of trauma she still experiences as she thinks back to the murder. I suspect it will never leave her. But in paying that personal psychological price, she documented Chauvin’s depravity and Floyd’s suffering for the world to see. God bless her. I hope she felt some joy in the verdict, too, Tuesday.

For me, Frazier’s testimony in court was as powerful as the video she recorded. That’s another part of the media story we must not forget as we think about such issues as cameras in the courtroom. I felt as if cable TV offered me the chance to see and viscerally feel every second of this trial that mattered.

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The prosecution proved you could put on a winning case that simultaneously played to those in the courtroom and those watching on various screens. There was no dumbing down, no hot-dogging for the cameras or any of the other claims that jurists who don’t want full scrutiny of their work use as arguments to keep cameras out. And that goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

On April 9, I wrote that I believed coverage of this trial might change the way many of us think about race and policing. At the time, I feared I might be making too big a claim. Today, I think that claim is not big enough.

I only hope the watershed work of Frazier’s video in the death of Floyd and the wall-to-wall cable TV coverage of the trial of Chauvin will ultimately lead to the kind of social change and legislation when it comes to policing that network coverage of civil rights abuses sparked half a century ago.

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

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