The Other George Floyd Story: How Media Freedom Led To Conviction In His Killer's Trial

from the freedom-helps dept

When 17-year-old Darnella Frazier started recording video of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd, she initiated a series of historic events that led to Chauvin?s conviction.

But for all the discussion of technology following her actions ? how cellphones enable video recording of police abuse and how social media encourages instantaneous mass distribution ? the key factor in George Floyd?s name becoming globally famous may not be Frazier?s cellphone. It may not even be social media.

It was the culture and tradition of U.S. civil liberties and media freedom that played an essential role in protecting Frazier?s ability to record and retain possession of the video, and the capability of commercial corporations to publish it.

Had the same events transpired in China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Singapore or elsewhere, nobody might ever have learned of Floyd?s fate.

The constitutional protections enjoyed by U.S. citizens empower and encourage everyday Americans to discover, record, expose and distribute evidence of governmental malfeasance. This freedom to publicize crimes committed by state actors creates the possibility of improving policing and making the administration of justice more sensitive, effective and responsive.

But it also threatens to undermine state authority, which is why so many U.S. politicians remain wary of such freedoms.

To understand how the United States developed this unconstrained news culture, you need to return to Minneapolis, to a moment one century ago, when a newspaper exposed police corruption and provided a key turning point in protecting the American public?s right to expose governmental crimes.

Press abuse vs. press limits

Jay Near always knew there were bad cops in Minnesota.

The publisher wrote about them in The Saturday Press, his Minneapolis newspaper. But Near called the cops ?gangsters,? and he railed against what he claimed was a Jewish cabal controlling Minneapolis. Jay Near was a racist crank who published baseless conspiracy theories.

Today, Near is remembered ? if at all ? for his legendary Supreme Court victory in the 1931 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Near v. Minnesota.

In 1927, Near and his business partner were prevented from publishing because The Saturday Press was deemed in violation of Minnesota?s ?Public Nuisance Law.? That law outlawed publishing or circulating ?obscene, lewd, and lascivious? or ?malicious, scandalous and defamatory? materials.

Near sued to lift the prohibition, and his case made it to the Supreme Court, where his publication rights were ultimately vindicated. Near v. Minnesota opened up the modern version of press freedom we recognize today. Calling the Minnesota Public Nuisance Law ?the essence of censorship,? a five-justice majority struck it down.

Essentially, the high court ruled that the U.S. Constitution allowed the abuse of press freedom in order to protect the most vibrant and robust public discussion possible. The Court had no illusions ? the judges were well aware The Saturday Press published inflammatory misinformation. But in assessing the costs of censorship versus the benefits of liberty, the majority sided with the racist crank against the state of Minnesota.

Making the connection

The expansive media freedoms originating in the First Amendment, and later enshrined in Supreme Court decisions like Near v. Minnesota, would continue into the internet age with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That?s the law that allows people to post freely on internet sites while protecting the internet companies from legal jeopardy caused by those materials.

So, for example, defamatory accusations, negligent misrepresentation, intentional nuisance, dangerous misinformation and even content intended to incite emotional distress can be posted without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other companies being sued or held civilly liable.

For better or worse, Section 230 establishes media freedom across the internet in the U.S. And it is this law, built on the traditions of media freedom, that allowed Darnella Frazier ? and all citizens who follow in her footsteps ? to stand up to the government in ways previously unimaginable.

A portion of the front page of The Saturday Press, with headline
A portion of the front page of The Saturday Press, Oct. 15, 1927, published by Jay Near that figures prominently in U.S. press freedom law. Minnesota Historical Society

But some stand ready to abandon these long-established legal and cultural protections.

Had Minnesota?s Public Nuisance Law survived Near?s challenge, it very well might have prevented publication of Frazier?s video. Those images could easily have been deemed ?obscene,? or a ?malicious? or ?scandalous? incitement to violence.

But U.S. states can?t outlaw media organizations as ?public nuisances.? Yet tensions over media freedom now exist that have the potential to lead to limits on the public?s ability to record and distribute police crimes.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump don?t agree on much, but one idea they have both publicly endorsed is eliminating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Critics who want to get rid of Section 230 regularly blame it for the plethora of ?fake news,? misinformation, and hate speech that infects our web and social media. Because Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and others can?t be held liable for users? content, the companies have felt little pressure, until recently, to moderate the blizzard of material they publish every second.

The cost of limiting the press

But media freedom is always a double-edged sword. Without Section 230 protection, social media companies would likely behave cautiously to minimize even the hint of legal jeopardy. Frazier?s video, in such a world, might be deemed too risky to distribute.

The immunity provided by Section 230 encourages YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others, to stimulate users to post pretty much any news, information or video their users deem newsworthy or interesting.

The repeal of Section 230 could result in a system in which inflammatory or provocative news or images that might outrage or incite people could be deemed too socially destructive or disturbing of the peace by internet companies. And this could include images and video such as the murder of George Floyd.

The media freedom secured by Jay Near when he sought to expose police corruption in Minneapolis eventually assured the conviction of a criminal Minneapolis policeman.

The idea that U.S. citizens can report, publish, print and disseminate information that might be terribly damaging to authority is a radical one. Even within the United States, this freedom is often considered too expansive. In Oklahoma, for example, a new bill criminalizing the filming of police officers recently passed both houses of the state legislature, and elsewhere the rights of citizens and journalists to record police behavior occurring in public are regularly violated.

The direct line from Minneapolis in the 1920s to Minneapolis in the 2020s is the notion that protecting people?s rights promises to foster an active, aware and engaged citizenry ? and that violating those rights by repressing or censoring information is deeply anti-American.The Conversation

Michael J. Socolow, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Comments on “The Other George Floyd Story: How Media Freedom Led To Conviction In His Killer's Trial”

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Without Section 230 protection, social media companies would likely behave cautiously to minimize even the hint of legal jeopardy. Frazier’s video, in such a world, might be deemed too risky to distribute.

So, too, would the words of the now-former 45th President of the United States. The opponents of 230 don’t seem to realize that rather than allow online speech to flourish, repealing 230 would stifle it.

What sucks for those who oppose 230 on “Big Tech is censoring too much” grounds is that repealing 230 would both lock in Big Tech as the only players in the social media field (since they’d be the only companies able to afford it) and make their moderation even more strict (all to avoid legal liability for third-party speech). The outcome they want would be, ironically enough, the outcome they’d never get.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Some of them may be imagining social media companies would stop all moderation and act as a "dumb pipe" to avoid liability, because that standard was what section 230 was designed to change.

But that fantasy would never stand up to reality.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Meanwhile we still have SESTA/FOSTA

The for the children exception to section 230 has already done untold damage to the web while further endangering the trafficked people it was (allegedly) intended to protect.

And yet, no one in Washington, on either side of the aisle is eager to make section 230 whole again.

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Anonymous Coward says:

one-liner hoping get in on this "free speech" site

Again, don’t know why this works — just timing till an admin notices, or different when AC and short?


Today’s Banned Words from BB: "Wuhan Virus"

So, allowing "racist crank" IS good for free speech!

But what have "liberals" done with their "speech" in same era, except try to destory the Union?

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 2nd one-liner hoping get in on this "free speech" site

Not blocked, just filtered as the spamming idiot you are, then your idiocy made visible to the world before you spamming like an idiot in the next thread.

If only there was a way to capture your ranting lunacy to create positive works or energy. I bet I could power my apartment for a year of a single week’s worth of your impotent keyboard usage,

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Umm

Even if he did, there are punishments for that crime on the books, and all of them require a trial before a judge and/or peers, not summary execution.

Focussing on the original "crime" is always irrelevant in these cases – as with Eric Garner and other examples, even if the suspect is 100% guilty as charged, the associated punishment is not death, and if it were the instrument of the punishment is not whatever random beat cop happens to be talking to him. If white supremacist fuckhead can shoot multiple people dead in their church and still be taken in alive, so can the guys supposedly passing fake bills or selling loose cigarettes.

The legal system is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty by a court, so it’s worrying to see people making excuses for that to be bypassed, especially when they think the default punishment is always death.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Umm

"…but he didn’t know that they were fake."

And to be bluntly honest, I don’t make a habit of holding every bill I receive up to scrutinize the watermark and the aluminum security stripe either. I don’t think anyone does. The proper response if someone passes you a bill you suspect to be counterfeit is and has always been "Sir, I think this bill is counterfeit. Do you mind if we call the police so we can both make a statement about it?".

After which, in a sane world, the cops would arrive to the people filing the report, take their statements, and leave without killing a single person.

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Anonymous Coward says:

And, without moderation, even little blogs like Techdirt would be buried in hundreds of spam posts daily, from people who have no intention of contributing to the discussion, but just want to express their hatred of some part of humanity.

It’s worth repeating, over and over: SEC230 doesn’t help protect big tech with their big-budget legal firms (just like druglords with their own hired goons don’t need protection from police.) Sec230 protects ordinary people with small blogs who want to carry on a conversation with their readers.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "A. Stephen Stone" show ONE not on topic and civil

…and in this case, all of them would be from one person.

You are simply labeling opinion you don’t want to read as "spam", therefore okay to censor. Typical of authoritarians / Nazis to make it appear that no one at all worth being let live could have least disagreement.

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sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "A. Stephen Stone" show ONE not on topic and civil

You are simply labeling opinion you don’t want to read as "spam", therefore okay to censor.

Your problem is that you wanted to be treated as if you were an adult, but you act (which speaks louder than words) as if you were a two-year-old. We don’t particularly appreciate people who make unfounded accusations as if they were prizes found in Cracker-Jack boxes. For the great majority of us, we can easily tolerate a spectrum of opinions, but it’s much easier to digest when it’s not written in such an accusatory tone of language. Capish?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "A. Stephen Stone" show ONE not on topic and civil

"You are simply labeling opinion you don’t want to read as "spam", therefore okay to censor."

You screaming incoherent nonsense about how pirates will burn in hell, everyone who argues with you is an astroturfer paid for by the CIA, and that Google is the new face of the Illuminati/Rothschilds/Global Jewish Conspiracy…those aren’t opinions. They’re spam.

Especially so given that you like to post them a dozen times in a row.

And the community you see fit to vent those ramblings in see fit to flag them as worthless. Your problem isn’t with moderation or censorship. It’s that sane people all shun the deranged drunk hollering in the corner.

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ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: only hammering gets ordinary access to what you appear to of

Something I think you have missed, in all your comments.

That time changes things, and mostly people.
Get enough people together to discuss something, and get everything out there, and people CAN Choose a side or see another side, or FIND that question that no one asked about something.

Sticking to a subject and Sub-subject(if there is one). And reading and thinking BEFORE you reply, works very well, as someone Else may ask the same as you.
I will bet, that Most of the people here, Dont always go back and read the Answers to Their own comments, or even after a few days just go back and read the rest of the posts.
On the other side, Time also shows FEW ever go back to the old stuff.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Oh noes, not the briar patch Mr. Senators...'

It’s worth repeating, over and over: SEC230 doesn’t help protect big tech with their big-budget legal firms (just like druglords with their own hired goons don’t need protection from police.) Sec230 protects ordinary people with small blogs who want to carry on a conversation with their readers.

230 does protect both but arguably it protects smaller platforms far more than it protects the big ones, because while the likes of Facebook can afford to hire enormous numbers of moderators and spend even more on moderation software a smaller platform is going to find themselves completely overwhelmed if they faced liability for user posts.

Far from attacking ‘Big Tech’ those going after 230 are instead working to cement their position and gut countless smaller platforms that might have competed, even in minor ways, with them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'Why are they giving us the stick to beat them with...?'

That really should be a huge red flag, especially for those that don’t trust Facebook, that maybe gutting 230 is a bad idea when Facebook is on board with it.

When the larger companies are silent if not supportive of changing the law and it’s the smaller companies that are objecting that should be all you need to know who stands to benefit from that change and who will really be ‘reigned in’ by that change.

ECA (profile) says:

Free SPEACH?

The problem with free speech, is in RL, there really isnt much.
The nation used to be small and the words of 1 person in a park, Could stand out.
As we grew, the nation and its states kinda separated in the ideals, and thoughts. Then the wars came more often and after WWII, we started seeing something that Stood out. HIPPIES, or at least what we called them. People standing up to HAVE an opinion that the gov./state didnt really like?
Other groups in the background, started disappearing, being broken up if they Stood up. the Anti-communist heyday, was Just wonderful. Lets point fingers and make everyone feel guilty.

Well now the open world of the internet is here, and it keeps changing, over and over and over again. WHAT is going to be allowed? Whose side are we on? State./Gov./Corp/idiots/Christians that hate every religion/ Hebrew Because Why not? Who and what are we going to blame and point fingers at Next?

Then lets think about what we are doing and compare it to REAL LIFE instances, that we do NOT have any control over. And try to get the internet TO FIX IT, and think that if the NET can do it, its over?

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Anonymous Coward says:

continuing after "mysteriously" blocked

For better or worse, Section 230 establishes media freedom across the internet in the U.S.

NO, it doesn’t. It immunizes HOSTS from what USERS publish. MERE HOSTS claim Section 230 provides them near-absolute immunity AND authorizes them as Publishers still having absolute editorial control over content, so HOW can you possibly make that statement? — Except outright LYING

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Anonymous Coward says:

like a switch was clicked, I'm in...

And it is this law, built on the traditions of media freedom, that allowed Darnella Frazier – and all citizens who follow in her footsteps – to stand up to the government in ways previously unimaginable.

I’m not troubled by standing up to the gov’t! It’s corporations that are now limiting all speech which doesn’t fit their leftist / globalist agenda.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: like a switch was clicked, I'm in...

(This was intended after the first, but been blocked.)

I hope that’s settled. — The obvious corollary, not that I admit to either "racist" or "crank", is that Techdirt should quit censoring, I mean "hiding" my or anyone’s comments, and the site would thereby benefit — as I’ve been stating when relevant and allowed past the mysterious "spam filter".

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MightyMetricBatman says:

Don’t forget the role of New York Times v Sullivan to defang defamation law being used to silence speech against public officials.

For those who don’t the background of the case. The New York Times published an ad from civil rights advocates accusing Birmingham, Alabama authorities of various civil rights violations – some of which were not well researched.

One of the those authorities, who wasn’t even named personally in the ad sued under Alabama defamation law against the New York Times, with no assets in the state, and whose business was a grand total of ~360 subscriptions.

This being the Jim Crow Alabama, The New York Times was found guilty in what was essentially a show trial with an all white jury that took less than two hours to award the largest defamation award in Alabama history of that point. At no point did said official demonstrate any actual harm. Of course, this award was rubber stamped by Alabama’s higher courts.

And subsequently dozens of lawsuits of defamation lawsuits across the south by public officials were now making their way in the system against all sorts of publications for their coverage of the civil rights movement.

The New York Times v Sullivan US Supreme Court decision on First Amendment grounds creating the ‘actual malice’ standard and stopped this heinous abuse of state defamation laws and attempted silencing of publications for their speech about public policy and politics.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"Critics who want to get rid of Section 230 regularly blame it for the plethora of “fake news,” misinformation, and hate speech that infects our web and social media."

We have a vast trove of their own statements to draw examples from showing those screaming the loudest are the worst perpetrators of these things they deem are so horrible.

Masks don’t work, its just like the flu, Trump cares about citizens…
People don’t want to look at their own behavior (or have it challenged) they just want everyone else to behave how they demand.

They are so terrified of the soundbites they can’t bring themselves to say anything about the thousands of videos showing police abusing citizens exercising their rights. Instead they pivot & blame those exercising their rights for causing all of the problems & holding them all responsible for the actions of a few.

It is much easier to blame the group than the individuals (but not for cops it seems).

They can’t even admit there are any problems even as we have prisoners dying of heat stroke who got no care at all or boiled a prisoner to death. The systems have failed, but nothing can be fixed because we’re pretending its all perfectly fine & needs no oversight or correction even as the bodycount rises.

Policing has gone astray in this nation, if you disagree please explain why a town of 30 people needs a BearCat with a battering ram.

We spend to much time & effort on imaginary issues while ignoring the real things, & the powers that be really like it that way because if we stopped caring about the distractions we might ask how even after Flint & hundreds of other cases they STILL haven’t done a damn thing to make sure the water out of citizens taps is actually safe.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Stop publishing crap articles Techdirt

Floyd was a junkie who died over complications of his own health condition with a near-fatal dose of meth. Nobody killed him, he overdosed. The officer was convicted in a witch trial of the BLM movement, along with Democrats(playing the race card, when this cop was not on trial for racism), and the left media.

Floyd did not die of lack of oxygen, he had over 90% in his lungs. And the arresting officers were not guilty of "stressing him out to death". A conviction of muder for stressing someone out to death is pure BS.

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restless94110 (profile) says:

Astonishing

Uh, Chauvin did not murder anyone. At the trial the other angle was shown in full that clearly shows there was no knee on Floyd’s neck. The autopsy shows no evidence whatsoever of murder. It’s difficult to understand how anyone who watched even a small part of the trial could write this nonsense.I

t looks pretty clear the trial will be thrown out on appeal, so the only thing that changed, history-wise, was the justice system was corrupted and policing weakened, which will (and already has) lead to thousands of violent deaths in black communities all over the US.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Astonishing

Well… that is a viewpoint. Denying the actual live video evidence of murder is a viewpoint I suppose…

"policing weakened"

Weakened by… psychopaths killing people for minor legal offences being caught on camera? I’m glad I live in a country where psychopaths killing people without due process is not an accepted part of the legal process then.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t bother replying to restless94110 any more. All they do is post a single comment — often laced with some sort of racism — without replying to others. They’re not here for a conversation; they’re here to be a 4chan-level troll.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When I respond to the idiots here, it’s not to get a response from them, it’s to indicate how stupid their statements are to casual observers. I’ve learned a lot in other forums over the years from people picking apart the troll posts, and hopefully I can do the same here.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

But, but, but…. this violates the very first rule of dealing with trolls:

1) Don’t Feed The Trolls! They grow, and even multiply, when you do so.

The button to the far right for voting should be renamed to "Asshat". By definition, a troll is both abusive and spamming (gumming up the flow of the discussion). In my particular dictionary, that’s a synonym for ‘Asshat’.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Honestly, I’ve learned more about certain subjects by watching people on forums rip trolls a new one than I have through reading normal articles.

There’s 2 types of troll – one is the guy who simply does something for attention. The other is one who deliberately spreads false narratives. You don’t starve the latter type by ignoring him – that’s how you get Fox News and their endless parade of uninformed voters who literally believe in an alternate reality because they only listen to the trolls.

These people need to be challenged, even if it’s something that regular readers have seen 100 times before without the idiot changing his narrative – people reading the site for the first time might be fooled, so it’s worth shouting down the falsehoods. Especially when, as with the moron above, the false narrative is one being pushed by the right-wing echo chambers to excuse murder.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"Honestly, I’ve learned more about certain subjects by watching people on forums rip trolls a new one than I have through reading normal articles."

This, right there.

Everyone probably realizes that when "Restless94110" tries to peddle a narrative that George Floyd died of self-inflicted injuries or that the capitol storming was a peaceful protest or that "conservative" viewpoints are being censored…there’s a lot wrong with that narrative.

But usually it’s just brought into the brutal limelight it deserves when someone actually responds to our resident nazi and brings up the murder, bigotry, or violent insurrection he keeps trying to gloss over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Astonishing

Weakened by… psychopaths killing people for minor legal offences being caught on camera?

You’ll notice that when this argument comes up, there’s never any explanation for how policing gets weakened. At least, not one beyond "but but but cops will get triggered if they know they’re being watched and can’t make nasty comments!"

Norahc (profile) says:

While the media certainly played a vital role in this conviction, I’m afraid they played a similar role in his eventual appeal. Their constant coverage of the murder, the riots, and political figures calling for the "right verdict" could provide Chauvin with enough basis to get the whole thing thrown out on the basis of a tainted jury pool not affording him a fair trial.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

I would bet that few places in Minnesota, never mind the rest of the United States, could likely have hosted a “fair trial” because of all the coverage. But we don’t, and shouldn’t, allow accused murderers to escape trial because their crime was given constant press coverage. Headlines shouldn’t determine guilt or innocence in a court of law.

Norahc (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Headlines shouldn’t determine guilt or innocence in a court of law.

Very true, but far too many people see a headline and make their determination of guilt or innocence based solely on that. The media (and social media for that matter) is great at getting the initial headlines out there and breaking the stories. Unfortunately, this is often done before all the facts are in and after too many have already made up their minds.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TFG says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The "Fair trial" standard should, if it isn’t already, be one that is considered in context. The reality is that it is impossible to have a completely impartial and fair trial – all people have their biases.

Additionally, an entirely uninformed jury is not desirable – you want them to have a basic level of societal understanding that need not be taught in the courtroom, else you have people who could not be trusted to judge for themselves, much less anyone else. That it my understanding of the intent of "jury of their peers" – peers of the one on trial, as opposed to people who are disconnected from the class and culture that the one on trial lives in.

The goal should be to have "the fairest trial possible." The judge’s refusal to sequester the jury is, in my mind, a nod towards this; a tacit statement that sequestration is pointless, because there is no way to have a jury that has not heard of what has happened, and that having such a jury may not even be desirable.

A person’s actions have consequences upon society itself. Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd had consequences upon society at large. Should those consequences be ignored when considering the consequences that Chauvin himself should face? In my view, no. I think not.

In the eyes of Chauvin’s peers, under their understanding of the law of the land, under their understanding of the intent of that law, he is guilty.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The media (and social media for that matter) is great at getting the initial headlines out there and breaking the stories.

Welcome to the world of the sound-bite, social media edition. Where the motto is: if you want more details, then go somewhere else. But wait, don’t go yet, what if we first showed this 6-piece set of Ginzu knives?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"The use of fentanyl and meth story in this case being an example."

Yeah, that is a desperate move. "Yeah, Chauvin knelt on a guy’s windpipe for 9 minutes, ignoring his please for help while his buddies stood around doing nothing, but that’s OK because he did some drugs". Erm, no, even if the drugs were the thing that meant the difference between life and death, it’s still unacceptable.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Their constant coverage of the murder, the riots, and political figures calling for the "right verdict" could provide Chauvin with enough basis to get the whole thing thrown out on the basis of a tainted jury pool not affording him a fair trial."

They were reporting on the publicly available video of Chauvin committing the crime, and the public outrage over a police officer murdering a man in cold blood over the course of 9 minutes.

If the system is so fucked over there that the press have to block out coverage of riots and murder just in case they get brought up in later trials, I’m not sure what to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Jurors shouldn’t be viewing unfiltered of their own content news in the first place. Assuming the judge was remotely competent the jury should have been sequestered from the start. Given the supporters of Chauvin haven’t brought that up I am inclined to believe they were. His defenders are reaching so hard that the cops would have shot them even if they were a white guy.

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