MINNEAPOLIS – Firefighter Geneviève Hansen burst into tears on Tuesday as she testified that she was prevented from helping George Floyd as former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.
The 27-year-old, who also took EMT training, was out for a walk last Memorial Day when she met Floyd and Chauvin. She can be heard on video of the arrest begging officers to check Floyd’s pulse.
She described feeling “totally distressed” and “helpless” that she couldn’t give Floyd medical attention because the police wouldn’t let her.
Like Hansen, almost everyone who has testified so far in Chauvin’s trial has choked on the witness stand as theydescribes seeing Floyd pass out and lose his pulse. Many regretted that they couldn’t help Floyd, a black man trapped below Chauvin’s knee for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020.
Sometimes survivors of traumatic events have a “false belief” about their role in the event, for example, that they could have saved Floyd from death, said Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Emory School of Medicine.
Among those who testified were a mixed martial arts fighter, the teenager who recorded a video showing the deaths of Floyd and her 9-year-old cousin, and the cashier who took the fake $ 20 bill, which led to the 911 call to the police. Chauvin, who is white, is charged with second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
Just watching the video of Floyd’s death can have an emotional impact on viewers, especially for people of color who have been repeatedly exposed to micro-attacks and viral incidents of racism and police brutality, said Kaslow, also director of the Atlanta Trauma Alliance.
But witnessing a severely traumatic event – like Floyd’s death – in person can have “profound” short- and long-term psychological effects, she said.
“It will have an impact on them for the rest of their lives,” Kaslow said. “When people tell the story, it’s almost like they relive a lot of memories.”
“ It still weighs on my heart ”:George Floyd’s death traumatic for black Minneapolis teens, who fear trial will be just as painful
Judge Peter Cahill had to request a 10-minute break on Wednesday when Charles McMillian, the 11th prosecution witness, started sobbing as he watched the video showing Floyd grappling with the police and calling his mother.
“I feel helpless,” McMillian said as he struggled to regain his composure in court. “My mother passed away on June 25th.”
McMillian can be seen in a video standing in the street behind the patrol car during Floyd’s initial fight with the police. After McMillian regained his composure, District Attorney Erin Eldridge kindly asked if he could bear to hear and watch the video more.
“What struck you about what Mr. Floyd was saying when you saw him on the ground?” Eldridge asked.
“When he said ‘I can’t breathe’, and when he said ‘mom, they are killing me, they are killing me’. That’s what I kept hearing: ‘I can’t breathe, they are killing me,’ “he replied.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the infamous video, also repeatedly broke down in tears on Tuesday, telling lawyers that witnessing and recording the incident had changed her life.
Frazier, who was 17 at the time, said she stayed awake a few nights “apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not interacting physically and not. not having saved his life “.
And Donald Williams, a mixed martial arts-trained wrestler who asked the officers to stop ‘the choking on blood’, wiped away his tears as he listened to the 911 call he made after the officers left. places.
Witnessing Floyd’s death could create emotional angst, fear, sadness and other “classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder” like intrusive memories, flashbacks or nightmares, said Kaslow.
She believes witnesses may experience a symptom of PTSD called survivor guilt, or feeling like they did something wrong because they survived a trauma when others did not or they haven’t done enough to help.
Christopher Martin was the Cup Foods employee who took Floyd’s fake $ 20 bill. On Wednesday, he told jurors he experienced “disbelief and guilt” after seeing Floyd taken in an ambulance.
“If I just hadn’t taken the bill ($ 20) it could have been avoided,” said Martin, 19.
Martin said he ultimately quit his job at Cup Foods because he didn’t feel safe.
Kaslow said people trying to cope with traumatic events can become isolated and avoid talking about it or visiting places that remind them of the event.
High school student Alyssa Nicole Funari, 18, told court on Tuesday that she hadn’t been to Cup Foods since.
Funari said she felt like she was failing because she wanted to intervene but couldn’t because an agent was pushing back the crowd.
“I couldn’t do anything as a spectator there,” she said, adding, “I couldn’t physically do what I wanted to do.”
She told the court that she was left alone after seeing Floyd arrested and that she “felt numb”.
The avoidance coping mechanism is “seriously challenged” by being asked to testify and “can become totally emotionally overwhelming,” Kaslow said.
Kaslow said the trauma can have a “very profound” impact on children because they do not have the same cognitive ability of abstract reasoning, which causes the symptoms of the trauma to manifest physically. Children can become so overwhelmed that they mentally dissociate or separate themselves from a situation.
“Their hearts may race or their breathing becomes difficult,” she said. “They have learning problems. It can affect their self-esteem.”
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A 9-year-old girl who wore a shirt with the word “love” on it on the day Floyd died testified on Tuesday morning. When prosecutor Jerry Blackwell asked the girl what she thought of what she saw, she said she was “sad and a little bit crazy”.
“And tell us why you were sad and crazy,” Blackwell said.
“Because it’s like he’s stopped breathing and it’s kind of like hurting him,” she said.
The defense did not ask her any questions and she was excused within five minutes of speaking.
Kaslow said that while it is clear that Floyd’s death will impact these witnesses in the future, the extent of the impact will depend on the type of support they receive and what other trauma they are exposed to.
“We have to be aware when we ask people to testify,” she said. “This is going to really upset a lot of people.”
Contributors: Grace Hauck, Kevin McCoy, Tami Abdollah and Eric Ferkenhoff; USA TODAY
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg